Operation NIMROD: The siege of Iranian embassy in London

Operation NIMROD: Siege of Iranian embassy in London, 1980 John McAleese and his team on the balcony
Operation NIMROD: Siege of Iranian embassy in London, 1980 (Photo: XY)

Operation NIMROD was a successful hostage rescue operation executed by the British Special Air Service (SAS) on May 5, 1980. In less than 20 minutes, they overtook the building of the Iranian Embassy in London, which was occupied by terrorists killing 6 terrorists and capturing one. All hostages were rescued with no harm.

Operation Nimrod has become a synonym for special operations and portrayed the SAS as one of the world’s most capable special operations units.

Introduction

The modern warfare and usage of special forces were especially highlighted after the tragic events of Munich 1972 and the unsuccessful hostage rescue operation. European governments started creating units for special purposes and detachments inside military units that could act in cases of terrorism.

The United Kingdom had enormous issues with domestic terrorism, but one event changed the world and the sense of special forces. It started on April 30, 1980, at 1130 hours, when six terrorists stormed the Iranian embassy in London (Princess Gate 16).

Iranian embassy siege

Terrorists from a group called the Democratic Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan (DRMLA) took 21 people hostage. Their demands were simple, to release the hostages unharmed, they demanded that Iranian authorities release 91 prisoners in Arabistan.

The deadline was set to May 1, 1980, at 1200 hours. The deadline was postponed to 1400 hours when the Metropolitan Police transmitted a message from the terrorist to the press. This deadline passed without any actions from either side.

Sim Harris making his escape across the first-floor balcony, as ordered by the masked SAS operator (far right) during the Operation NIMROD on May 5, 1980
Sim Harris making his escape across the first-floor balcony, as ordered by the masked SAS operator (far right) during Operation NIMROD on May 5, 1980 (Photo: Wiki)

The negotiations continue for the next few days until May 5, 1980, when the embassy’s tension broke through as the besieged terrorists started losing their patience. The terrorist executed the Embassy Press Officer Abbas Lavasani. Just before 1800 hours of the same day, his body was dumped on the pavement outside the embassy. This was the turning point of the siege. The British Government had decided not to act until the terrorist was killing hostages.

Operation NIMROD

The British Special Air Service (SAS) was present on the site from the siege’s first day. They had set up sniper positions and were monitoring the situation. SAS established a command post on the sixth-floor of Kingston House, which was the main point where they could clearly see the embassy. The SAS operators involved in this operation were assigned to B Squadron, which was just assigned to the counter-terrorist duties.

The rescue plan was that the SAS operators would be divided into two teams, Red and Blue. The Red team would abseil down from the roof to the second-floor balcony while the four members of the Blue team would jump from the first floor of the nearby building to the first-floor balcony at the embassy. The rest of the Red and Blue team were tasked with their entry position at the embassy’s back, from where they easily could rush and go in through the embassy’s ground floor windows.

The SAS troops were equipped with CS gas, stun grenades, explosives, Browning Hi-Power pistols, and Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine guns.

Green Light

On May 5, 1980, in 1858 hours, Home Secretary William Whitelaw personally authorized Operation NIMROD, the SAS operation of overtaking the Iranian Embassy after two hostages were executed by the terrorists in the previous days and when it was obvious that the violent overtaking of the building is inevitable.

At 1907 hours, SAS takes over control of the siege from the Metropolitan police. At 1922 hours, SAS teams were in position, and only a minute later, at 1923 hours, members of the Red team started their descent from the roof. Suddenly the mission was in danger. A member of the Red team got stuck 4.5 meters above the balcony, and at that moment, it looked like the mission could go in the opposite direction.

Legendary member of British SAS, John McAleese took part in Operation NIMROD in 1980
John McAleese: Leader of the SAS team that ended the 1980 siege of the Iranian embassy in London has also been part of the Operation NIMROD (Photo: YouTube/SAS)

The other members tried to help him free while the commanding SAS officer acted quickly and issued an order to the rest of the assault teams to proceed with the mission without cutting loose the Red team member who stuck above the balcony. The rest of the Red team hit the second-floor balcony and went in.

The one part of the Blue team rushed from the undergrowth and went in through groundfloor windows. At the same time, remaining members of the Blue Team jump onto the first-floor balcony. Inside the embassy, the terrorists were caught by surprise. The SAS starts to sweep the embassy.

Room by room, door by door, the SAS made his way to the two remaining rooms where the hostages were divided into two groups. The men were held in the telex room and the women in the Cypher room, both on the second floor.

At 1940 hours, SAS reported that the operation was over.

Aftermath

In total, they apprehended one wounded terrorist while killing six others. None of the SAS soldiers or the hostages were killed during the raid itself. However, the SAS only went in after the terrorists executed two hostages. The SAS quickly disappeared from the scene before the press showed up.

The Iranian Embassy Siege was the first time the SAS was publicly shown conducting an operation as they were filmed, which led to the government officially recognizing the SAS’s existence. This meant the knowledge of the SAS became public knowledge.

Special Air Service - SAS operators are posing with their weaponry
The Special Air Service (SAS) is a special forces unit of the British Army. (Photo: XY)

After the successful SAS operation, the SAS became highly sought after by world governments. Many countries approached the UK to ask for the SAS to train their own special forces units. Also, many British men were inspired to join the SAS because of the raid, which led to a huge surge and applications to the SAS.

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