Forty years ago this month, on April 30, 1980, the Iranian Embassy on Prince’s Gate in London was stormed by six terrorists bent on gaining autonomy for a region in southern Iran they call Arabistan.
What unfolded was a siege of high drama that transfixed the world, as JONATHAN MAYO revealed in the Mail on Saturday.
In the concluding part of this gripping series, it is five days into the siege, four hostages have been released but 22 remain.
Next door to the embassy, the SAS wait for the order to launch Operation Nimrod, a daredevil mission to rescue the hostages.
The SAS have been in position for four days and are rehearsing their hostage-release tactics at the full-size mock-up of the embassy that has been built at their temporary base in Regent’s Park Barracks. The SAS are pictured storming the embassy
Day 5: Sunday, May 4, 1980
PC Trevor Lock, who was guarding the embassy when it was captured, is having his first proper wash in five days; the hostages are always escorted to the bathroom and Lock doesn’t want to reveal he still has his police revolver in a holster under his tunic.
He has told the gunman who escorted him that because he suffers from excessive wind, he needs privacy. The terrorist is happy to wait outside.
The rest of the hostages are woken up on their makeshift beds of corduroy seat cushions and pillows. The mood is positive.
Ron Morris, the embassy manager, serves up what he calls ‘Siege Tea’ — two teabags brewed in a kettle, accompanied by biscuits.
The terrorists’ leader, Salim, brings some Bandit biscuits provided by the police. After he’s gone, the Iranian hostages laugh when the British tell them what the word Bandit means.
In the office called Room 9 where the hostages are kept during the day, BBC employee Sim Harris chats to one of the embassy press officers, Abbas Lavasani, 29, an eccentric figure in a yellow cardigan and with his trousers tucked into his socks.
Lavasani is one of the most devout of the Iranian hostages and has told their captors he is prepared to die as a martyr.
Harris tells him ‘I think you are very brave for doing that, but nobody will have to die. We’ll all be out soon.’
Lavasani says he has no family and would not be missed by anyone in Iran if he was killed.
The terrorists’ leader, Salim, brings some Bandit biscuits provided by the police. After he’s gone, the Iranian hostages laugh when the British tell them what the word Bandit means. A police officer is pictured above leaning out of the window with two terrorists on the fifth day of the siege
The mood in the embassy suddenly changes. Salim has found a felt-tip pen and is writing ‘Death to Khomeini’ on the wall outside Room 9.
Abbas Lavasani and the embassy chargé d’affaires Gholam-Ali Afrouz are outraged at this insult to their leader.
Lavasani tries to grab one of the terrorists named Faisal, who then forces Lavasani on to the floor at gunpoint.
Some of the other Iranians try to restrain Lavasani and the scuffle only stops when Trevor Lock intervenes by yelling at Lavasani: ‘Shut up and keep still! OK, that’s enough! Just bloody cool it.’
In 1981, Trevor Lock (pictured above) was awarded the George Medal for bravery. For a while he was so embarrassed by his fame that, when he went to London, he travelled in the train driver’s cab
The SAS have been in position for four days and are rehearsing their hostage-release tactics at the full-size mock-up of the embassy that has been built at their temporary base in Regent’s Park Barracks.
Those who aren’t rehearsing are sleeping or watching television at the Royal College Of General Practitioners, next door to the embassy.
The hostages are so bored they spend their time reading embassy memoranda and letters and making paper-clip necklaces.
The embassy medical clerk, Ahmed Dadgar, has found a copy of the thriller The Day Of The Jackal but is reading it so slowly that the others don’t expect to get a chance to read it.
Syrian hostage Mustapha Karkouti, 36, has become pale and feverish. Salim decides he should be released. Karkouti tries to persuade him to release a woman instead.
‘It’s you or nobody,’ Salim says. Karkouti stumbles out into the street and is told by the police to put his hands up, before being taken away to Hendon Police College for questioning.
Sim Harris thanks Salim for releasing Karkouti. ‘He was a great friend to all of us. I hope you don’t let him down by doing anything you might regret.’
Day six: Bank Hol Monday, May 5, 1980
The gunmen are convinced there is an intruder in the embassy. They wake PC Lock and tell him to search the building.
He puts on his peaked cap and goes downstairs shouting: ‘This is Constable Trevor Lock! Is anybody there?’
He returns soon after, tells Salim and his men there’s no one in the building and goes back to sleep.
The atmosphere remains tense. Salim is tired and frustrated at the police’s delaying tactics and tells the hostages: ‘They’re just messing me about. This operation was supposed to last 28 hours and now it’s lasted six days.’
Salim tells Lock to warn the police by calling out of a window that a hostage will be shot in 30 minutes unless an Arab ambassador arrives to mediate. Sim Harris writes in his diary: ‘I really do think they mean business this time.’
The gunmen are convinced there is an intruder in the embassy. They wake PC Lock and tell him to search the building. He puts on his peaked cap and goes downstairs shouting: ‘This is Constable Trevor Lock! Is anybody there?’
Lock, Harris and Lavasani are being led down to the ground floor. Salim tells the police on the field telephone provided for negotiations that a hostage will be killed in five minutes unless they get what they want.
One of the gunmen starts to tie Lavasani to a banister with string. A horrified Lock tells the police, ‘They are trussing him up like a chicken.’
Lavasani says: ‘Please Mr Trevor, don’t worry, I’m not afraid to die.’
Lock and Harris have been taken back upstairs but can hear that Salim has given Lavasani the field telephone.
‘My name is Abbas Lavasani, I am tied up and they are going to kill me. Please help.’
Salim screams at him: ‘You shouldn’t have told them your name!’ Lock is distraught and said later: ‘I had a gun. Should I draw it and try and save this innocent lamb? I so desperately wanted to do something.’
Lavasani is executed in cold blood. Next door, the SAS recognise the sound of gun shots; they know their moment will come soon. At his official residence in Berkshire, Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw is told the news and immediately runs for his car.
In Whitehall a Cobra meeting convenes; Whitelaw’s driver reached speeds of 120mph to get him there.
The director of the SAS Group, Brigadier Peter de la Billière, tells the committee that a military solution is now the most likely option to end the siege.
At Prince’s Gate, embassy manager Ron Morris is saying to Salim: ‘You’ve done it now.’
Covered by marksmen, a policeman pushes a letter through the embassy letterbox.
It’s from Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir David McNee appealing for a ‘peaceful conclusion’. Salim reads it with disgust. ‘What does it mean? It says nothing!’
The door of the embassy opens and Lavasani’s body is dumped outside. His arm hangs limply from under a blanket as he’s carried away on a stretcher.
Salim says to the hostages, ‘I’ve given them one body. I’m going to give them another in 45 minutes unless I hear something.’
Sim Harris writes in his diary: ‘I just hope I’m at the end of the list of people to be shot.’
Salim tells Lock to warn the police by calling out of a window that a hostage will be shot in 30 minutes unless an Arab ambassador arrives to mediate. Sim Harris (pictured above) writes in his diary: ‘I really do think they mean business this time.’
On the field telephone, Trevor Lock warns police negotiator Max Vernon that Salim has threatened to kill all the hostages if the embassy is attacked.
Willie Whitelaw calls Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to secure approval for the SAS to move in. She agrees.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Dellow signs a hastily written scrap of paper, officially handing over command to the SAS.
Operation Nimrod swings into action. The SAS plan is to invade the embassy from every possible skylight and window.
They are divided into two teams: the 18 men of Red Team will work downwards through the fourth, third and second floors; the ten men in Blue Team will work up from the basement; the two teams will meet in the middle.
They are wearing black Royal Tank Regiment overalls with black respirators over their faces. St Stephen’s Hospital in Fulham is warned to prepare for casualties.
The BBC and ITV interrupt their Bank Holiday movies Rio Lobo and Detour To Terror to start showing live pictures of the siege.
Police negotiator Max Vernon is trying to distract Salim by keeping him talking on the telephone.
While saying the Government have agreed to his demand for a coach to Heathrow, Vernon can see on his monitors the SAS moving into position on the roof.
Then one of the SAS abseil team at the rear of the embassy accidentally breaks a window. Salim hears the noise and says: ‘We are listening to some suspicious movements.’
Vernon says: ‘There are no suspicious movements, Salim.’ But the terrorist is not fooled.
‘Just a minute. I come back again. I am going to check.’
The SAS assault commander who has been monitoring the conversation shouts the order to his men: ‘Go! Go! Go!’
The building is rocked as a distraction charge on the glass skylight on the roof explodes and the lights in the embassy go out.
On the first floor, Trevor Lock seizes his chance. He shoulder-charges Salim across the room and the terrorist’s assault rifle falls on the floor.
As Salim scrambles towards it Lock finally pulls his gun from its holster and holds it to Salim’s head and shouts: ‘It’s your fault, you b*****d! You caused all this!’
‘Please don’t hurt me, Mr Trevor!’ Salim pleads. ‘It wasn’t me. It was the others!’ For a moment Lock wants to shoot him. ‘Then I thought, if I kill him I’d be doing so out of anger and that’s not the way I’ve been trained.’
Hostage Sim Harris is pictured above escaping the embassy with the help of the SAS team. Police negotiator Max Vernon is trying to distract Salim by keeping him talking on the telephone
On the ground floor at the rear of the embassy, the SAS Blue Team are using a sledgehammer to break their way in, while from a second-floor window, terrorist Hassan shoots at them wildly.
Above them, the Red Team leader’s abseil rope has snagged and he is suspended in mid-air.
Meanwhile, Sim Harris runs into a first-floor office at the front of the building and shuts the door behind him. The room is pitch-black but ‘tranquil in comparison to the deafening sounds of gunfire and explosions’.
Outside, watched by millions on TV, SAS soldiers Mel Parry and John McAleese move on to the balcony carrying explosives attached to a frame and place it against the window of the office.
Just then, Harris pulls the shutters apart and comes face to face with the huge black figures of Parry and McAleese, who shout at him repeatedly to ‘Get down!’.
The explosive frame explodes moments after Harris ducks and, seconds later, the SAS men are jumping over him.
One pushes Harris on to the balcony. He shouts: ‘Go on lads! Get in there! Get the b*****ds!’
Trevor Lock and Salim are wrestling on the floor. Suddenly, the door flies open and there’s a shout: ‘Trevor! Move over!’ and Lock rolls over on his side, surprised the SAS know his name.
Outside, watched by millions on TV, SAS soldiers Mel Parry and John McAleese move on to the balcony carrying explosives attached to a frame and place it against the window of the office
Salim is hit by 15 machine gun bullets and is killed instantly.
Lock recalled: ‘There was a line of bullet holes going diagonally from his eye across his chest. No blood, just the holes.’
The explosion at the front of the building is the cue for the abseil team at the rear to drop from the roof on to the second-floor balcony.
Stun grenades are thrown into Room 9 and ignite furniture stacked in front of the windows. The curtains are soon on fire and flames start to lick the boots of the Red Team leader still dangling from above.
His comrades shout to the men on the roof to cut the rope and he falls 12 ft on to the balcony. Although injured, the Red Team leader says: ‘Let’s get in!’ They find there are no hostages in Room 9.
The four women hostages are unguarded in a small office nearby. The 14 male hostages are crouched on the floor of the telex room along the corridor watched by three of the gunmen — Faisal, Ali and Makki.
They wave the Iranians to one side of the room and Ron Morris and the other non-Iranians to the other side. Faisal opens fire on the Iranians with his machine pistol and they desperately scramble under furniture to escape.
Embassy worker Ali Samadzadeh, is killed instantly; two others are injured. The embassy doorman Abbas Fallahi’s life is saved when a 50 pence piece inside his jacket pocket stops a bullet.
Police negotiator Max Vernon can hear the screams, shouts and gunfire. He thinks that a ‘wholesale massacre’ is happening inside the embassy.
Along the corridor the terrorist Abbas, nicknamed ‘Ugly’ by the hostages, runs across the landing and SAS trooper ‘Deggs’ fires his MP5 submachine gun, wounding him. Abbas staggers into the ambassador’s office. Deggs and three others throw stun grenades into the room.
Using their gun-torches, they discover Abbas slumped and groaning on a chaise longue at the rear, bullets falling from his pockets. Abbas raises his semi-automatic pistol and is shot by all four men before he can fire.
On the second floor, Lance Corporal Tommy Palmer, in the Red Team at the rear of the building, sees gunman Hassan trying to set a room on fire with petrol.
Palmer fires but his gun jams. Hassan flees down the corridor and into the carnage of the telex room; Faisal and Ali have lost their nerve and are sitting down among the hostages they had just tried to kill, hoping to escape undetected.
But Hassan wants to fight on and pulls out a hand grenade. One of the Iranians yells: ‘Don’t kill us! It’s no use. Everybody is finished!’ Hassan decides to put the grenade and his gun down. The hostages pick up the weapons and throw them out of the window.
The SAS burst into the telex room. Ron Morris shouts ‘I’m British!’ and the others cry: ‘We’re hostages! We’re hostages!’
An SAS man lifts his respirator and asks ‘Which ones are the terrorists?’
What happened next has been disputed. One of the hostages, medical clerk Ahmed Dadgar who had been injured in the telex room, said ‘They then took the two terrorists, pushed them against the wall and shot them. They wanted to finish their story. That was their job.’
The SAS claim Hassan and Makki moved for their weapons, so they shot them. The official inquest found the SAS had used ‘reasonable force’ and the coroner delivered a verdict of ‘justifiable homicide’.
Sim Harris is still on the first-floor balcony and burning debris is now falling on him. He stands up and someone yells ‘Get down! Stay flat!’ Harris shouts back: ‘I’m going to burn to death!’
Hostages are now being thrown down the stairs as they are passed from SAS soldier to soldier, including Trevor Lock, who thanks each in turn, and out into the garden at the rear. Among them are Ali and Faisal, the two remaining gunmen from the telex room.
On the stairs Faisal is recognised. ‘He’s a terrorist!’ an SAS man shouts, and another sees him produce a grenade. As Faisal reaches the bottom of the stairs, the SAS open fire. ‘He had a hand grenade. End of story,’ one of the soldiers said.
SAS soldier McAleese goes back to get Sim Harris, who is still on the balcony. The rooms at the front of the building are now so hot that the soles of McAleese’s boots are melting.
Unable to get into the room where he first entered the embassy because of the fire, McAleese goes into the next door office and shouts out of the window to Harris: ‘Come over here, mate!’
The BBC man gets up, clambers over the balustrade, is dragged to safety by McAleese and then joins the chain of hostages out of the embassy.
The rescue is all over in 11 minutes. The hostages are lying face down in the garden, their hands tied behind their backs. The SAS need to check there are no terrorists among them.
Hostage Ali Tabatabai is weeping with relief. Sim Harris says: ‘Just thank God you’re in Britain. You’ve been rescued by the finest anti-terrorist squad in the world.’
Then Harris spots the last surviving gunman Ali holding on to the sleeve of one of the women hostages and shouts out: ‘He’s a terrorist!’
The woman pleads, ‘Don’t hurt him! He’s a nice boy!’ An SAS soldier is about to drag Ali back into the embassy and possibly kill him until Robin Horsfall and another SAS team member tell him not to.
‘That would have been totally against policy. We had the world’s media on us; it would have been a very foolish thing for somebody to make that sort of mistake.’
The rescue is all over in 11 minutes. The hostages are lying face down in the garden, their hands tied behind their backs. The SAS need to check there are no terrorists among them. Hostages are pictured being led away by police
The police officially announce that the siege has ended. The SAS are driven away to Regent’s Park barracks in two rental vans for a beer and a debrief. They have saved 19 of the remaining 20 hostages.
Having been reunited with his wife Doreen, PC Trevor Lock is taken to Scotland Yard to meet the Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir David McNee, who throws his arms around Lock and bursts into tears.
Mrs Thatcher and her husband Denis arrive at Regent’s Park Barracks to congratulate the SAS.
Cabinet Office Under Secretary Richard Hastie-Smith recalled, ‘The state of excitement was something I’ve never see in my life before. They were like a pack of hounds, they roared their welcome.’
Denis says to them with a grin that they had failed in their mission. ‘You let one of the bastards live!’
They all then settle down to watch the TV footage of the rescue, but John McAleese can’t see the screen.
‘Person at the front! Move your f*****g head!’ he shouts. Mrs Thatcher obligingly moves out of the way.
Thanks to the hostage rescue, the SAS became world-famous. Thousands of British Army soldiers applied to join.
‘We couldn’t cope with the numbers,’ one of the SAS soldiers involved in Operation Nimrod said.
In 1981, Trevor Lock was awarded the George Medal for bravery. For a while he was so embarrassed by his fame that, when he went to London, he travelled in the train driver’s cab.
Ali, the only terrorist who survived (real name Fowzi Badavi Nejad), was sentenced to life in prison.
When he was released in 2008, Iran called for Ali to face trial in his own country for the murder of the two hostages, but Britain granted him political asylum.
He is believed to be living in south London with a new identity.
Jonathan Mayo’s D-Day Minute By Minute is published by Short Books at £8.99.