On April 30th, 1980 terrorists stormed the Iranian embassy in London, England to demand the release of prisoners held in Iran.  Throughout the 1970’s international terrorism was a frightening new reality that western governments were still trying to cope with.  By taking hostages and barricading themselves against assaulters, terrorists could hold entire countries hostage in full view of news cameras broadcasting live to the entire world. Western governments were grappling with two specific mission profiles to alleviate the threat of terrorists leveraging hostages for political ends. These were aircraft hijackings and barricaded hostage situations.

As the Iranian embassy siege progressed over six days, British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher authorized a small and at that time relatively unknown unit to re-take the embassy and end the siege.  The Special Air Service (SAS) was suddenly cast into the spotlight in front of the same news cameras that had been watching the siege.  This August, a movie depicting the events of April 30th through the SAS assault on the embassy on the 5th of May will be released.  “Six Days” will walk the audience through the events leading up to the 17 minute long raid on the embassy and no doubt ask us to reflect on the origins of counter-terrorism operations which are in the press on a nearly daily basis.

SOFREP: The 1970s were the birth of counter-terrorism in many ways, but it always struck me that the SAS had a bit of a leg up on the American units as you guys had a lot of experience fighting IRA terrorists in Ireland.  Could you detail a bit about how the SAS’s counter-terrorism tactics, techniques, and procedures evolved and came into being?

Rusty: It was probably fair to say in my day that we did have the upper hand on certain American units as far as counter-terrorism was concerned. Throughout the 70s we the SAS were involved a lot in the Northern Ireland troubles fighting the terrorists. This has been well documented over the years.  The SAS have to learn quickly as lives can be at stake. The experience of day-to-day working in trouble spots brings out a lot of times what we called lessons learnt.

The SAS are continually looking to be the leaders in the counter-terrorism world and think over the years we have proven that.  Counter-terrorism tactics, techniques and procedures are continually practiced by the SAS. However we did not sit on our laurels and were always looking for new ideas, new weapons, vehicles et cetera et cetera to make sure that we could carry out any given task to the best of our ability.

SOFREP: When did you get world about the Iranian embassy siege?  Was an SAS element on standby and how would you rate the unit’s confidence in dealing with hostage barricade situations prior to this incident?

Rusty: I personally got a telephone call around midday at home and to back that up I had a personal pager that alerted me that there was a live operation taking place. Most of the guys had exactly the same messages.

B Squadron were the counter-terrorist team on standby and on 30 minutes notice to move. Coincidently, there being a bank holiday weekend on the horizon we were due to get a call out for an exercise over that weekend. Therefore, as normal all of our operational kit, weapons, vehicles were packed and ready for a call out if required.