Dozens of Iranian protesters stormed two British diplomatic compounds in Tehran
on November 29, prompting strong condemnation from Britain and the international
community and an uneasy apology from the Iranian government.
Protesters storm the British Embassy in Tehran
Protesters first attacked the British Embassy in Tehran,
smashing windows and burning the British flag.
An angry crowd numbering in the hundreds outside the embassy walls during
the incursion shouted "Death to England! Death to three terrorist countries:
America, Israel, and England!"
A second British diplomatic compound, located in the north of the capital,
was stormed by at least 100 protesters. The semi-official Fars news agency
reported that six British diplomats who had been holed up for more than two
hours in a building inside the diplomatic compound had been able to get through
protesters after intervention from diplomatic police.
A statement from Britain's Foreign Office confirmed "an incursion by a
significant number of demonstrators into our embassy premises, including
vandalism to our property." It expressed "outrage" and condemned the assault as
"utterly unacceptable" and said senior British officials had urged Iranian
authorities to bring the situation under control and obey international
obligations to protect foreign diplomatic missions.
The office also urged all British nationals in Iran "to stay indoors, keep
a low profile, and await further advice."
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who chaired a meeting of his
cabinet's crisis committee, said the attack was "outrageous and indefensible"
and will prompt "serious consequences."
Iranian state television carried live broadcasts of the scene as
protesters threw stones and broke embassy windows, and images showed at least
one vehicle inside the compound on fire.
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.
Protesters remove take down an emblem from the British
Embassy in Tehran.
One young demonstrator could be seen climbing 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.
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.
Fars news agency reported that police used tear gas to disperse protesters
and that several officers and protesters were wounded. At least one protester
was reported to be in critical condition. It also reported that 12 protesters
have been arrested and that an investigation into the incident has begun.
In Washington, the White House issued a statement condemning the attack
"in the strongest terms" and saying that the United States "stand(s) ready to
support our allies at this difficult time."
In Brussels, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also
condemned the embassy storming and called on Iran to fulfill its international
obligations to protect foreign missions and their staff.
In a statement, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said it "regrets the
unacceptable acts of a few protesters" and respects the immunity of foreign
diplomatic missions inside Iran. It also said officials would investigate the
matter and take necessary steps.
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."
A protester with a picture of Queen Elizabeth II taken from
inside the British Embassy in Tehran.
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."
The latest embassy incursion came just two days after Iran's parliament
passed a law to downgrade diplomatic ties with Britain in response to new
British sanctions that sever all U.K. ties with Iran's financial sector.
The legislation requires Britain's ambassador to leave the country within
two weeks. On November 29, the Iranian parliament ordered President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad to bring the new law into effect. The U.K. move -- which occurred simultaneously with similar U.S. and
Canadian action -- followed a recent report from the UN's nuclear watchdog that
said Iran's nuclear program has included weapons development as recently as
Britain has threatened to act "robustly" if its ambassador, Dominick
Chilcott, is expelled from the country.
with contributions from Ron Synovitz, Frud Bezhan, and
Radio Farda's Hamid Fatemi in Prague and Golnaz Esfandiari and Heather Maher in
Copyright (c) 2011 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org