Students Storm U.K. Embassy In Tehran
November 29, 2011
Dozens of hard-line Iranian students stormed the British Embassy in Tehran, removing the mission's flag and ransacking offices inside.
There was no immediate word on possible casualties or how many employees were inside the embassy at the time of the assault, although it occurred after business hours had ended.
Fars news agency reported that riot police trying to remove intruders from the compound also clashed with protesters outside the embassy. Fars reported that tear gas was used to disperse protesters.
A second British diplomatic compound, located in the north of the capital, was stormed by at least 100 protesters. Fars later reported that police "secured" the release of six hostages. It was unclear if the compound was cleared of occupiers.
Tehran Province Governor Morteza Tamaddon has reportedly arrived at the British Embassy to "assess" the situation.
The storming of the British Embassy compound comes two days after Iran's parliament passed a law to expel Britain's ambassador within the next two weeks in retaliation for new British sanctions that cut off all ties with Iran's financial sector.
The sanctions were imposed after a report by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said there was evidence suggesting a military dimension to Iran's nuclear program.
A journalist for the French news agency AFP outside the embassy compound reported seeing about 20 demonstrators break into the main embassy building in a first wave of the attack. Students later could be seen throwing documents from the windows of the embassy building and over the compound gates.
Some demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, and smoke rose from parts of the embassy grounds as the British flag was replaced with a banner carrying the name of seventh-century Shi'ite saint Imam Hussein.
The protesters also were shown live on Iranian state television throwing stones and breaking embassy windows. Outside the embassy's walls, several hundred other demonstrators were gathered, including hundreds of young women in chadors who chanted "Death to Britain" and "Embassy of Britain should be taken over."
One young demonstrator could be seen climbing back over the compound wall with a looted portrait of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. As he held the portrait upside down, women in chadors struck the queen's portrait with the staffs of their Imam Hussein banners.
A group called Muslim Student Followers of the Supreme Leader claimed responsibility for organizing the attack, issuing a statement that was reportedly written in blood.
It said Iranians "are not prepared to be humiliated anymore under any circumstances and prefer a red death to a condemned life of misery. We are ready to be killed for our aims."
They also called for the German and French embassies to be shut down, and referred to the British Embassy as "another nest of spies that must be shown our wrath and hatred toward it."
That remark is seen as a reference to events in Tehran 32 years ago, when hundreds of conservative Islamic students from the capital's main universities broke through the gates of the U.S. Embassy, taking 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini supported the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in November 1979, calling the embassy an "American spy den in Tehran" and calling the action by the students Iran's "second revolution."
A statement from Britain's Foreign Office expressed "outrage" at the storming of its embassy, saying the assault was "utterly unacceptable and we condemn it." A British Foreign Office spokesman urged the Iranian government to "act urgently to bring the situation under control," citing its duty under international law to protect diplomats and embassies.
Britain also warned that Iran's government is responsible under international law for protecting the safety of diplomats and embassy staff.
The United States condemned the storming incident "in the strongest terms." It said Iran has a responsibility to protect the diplomatic missions in its country and the personnel stationed in them.
Iran's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it regretted the "unacceptable acts of a few protesters." The statement asked officials to investigate the incident. The statement said the Foreign Ministry respects the immunity of diplomatic locations and buildings in Iran.
An Iranian government official said the government in Tehran was not responsible for the violence. But correspondents say the initial intrusion occurred as ranks of Iranian police in riot gear stood by, doing nothing.
Later, Iranian police with helmets and shields could be seen at the gates to the compound trying to hold back a larger crowd of demonstrators and clashing with young male demonstrators while others poured into the compound.
Britain has threatened to act "robustly" if Iran's Foreign Ministry follows through by kicking out its ambassador, Dominick Chilcott, who took up the post only last month.
written by Ron Synovitz and Frud Bezhan, with contributions from Radio Farda's Hamid Fatemi
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|