Iranian Extremists Seize US Embassy, Take Hostages
By Patrick Mondout
On November 4, 1979, an estimated 3,000 militants overran the U.S.
Embassy in Teheran and captured 54 embassy staff members. Religious
extremist and Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini praised their actions. The
militants demanded that: the Shah, who ruled Iran for decades with an iron
fist and was now seeking medical treatment in the West, be turned over to
them for trial; that the United States apologize for crimes against the
Iranian people; and that the Shah's assets be paid to them.
Under Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Iran had been a long-time ally of the
United States. The Shah's secret police, the Savak, were notorious abusers
of human rights, however. President Carter writes in his biography, Keeping
the Faith, that he asked the Shah whether he could curb the human
rights abuses in Iran. The Shah answered, "No, there is nothing I can
do. I must enforce the Iranian laws, which are designed to combat
The Shah declared martial law in September 1977. A bloody confrontation
between police and Muslims killed several hundred people. Muslims called
for the Shah's abdication. The Shah tried to pacify them by granting
amnesty to several opposition leaders, including Muslim leader Ayatollah
Khomeini, who had been living in exile in France.
The Shah also appointed a prime minister, who once in power called for
the Shah to leave and disband his secret police. On January 19, 1979
millions of marchers rallied to back Khomeini, who announced from France
that he was forming a new government. Khomeini flew into Teheran, the
capital of Iran, on February 1, 1979. Meanwhile, the United States was
evacuating Americans from Iran. The Shah fled to Morocco.
In April 1980, a U.S. rescue mission failed. The hostages were released
in 1981, on President
Ronald Reagan's inauguration day, 444 days after they were taken.
David Farber, Taken
Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter with
Radical Islam, Princeton University Press, 2004.