The mystery behind the Iran hostage crisis

Written by Staff Writer by Linda Carroll, CNN

Dec. 30 marks 50 years since the hostage crisis in Iran. Hostages were held at the US embassy in Tehran for 444 days, captivating the world and bringing the country of 70 million to the brink of collapse.

This is a look at the history of the hostages.

(The reporter’s name has been changed to protect identity.)

Dec. 16, 1978: 444 days begins

It was the first such strike in history.

A group of hardline Iranian students staged a raid on the US embassy in Iran. Their goal was to obtain the release of Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had gained power in a coup d’etat and was in hiding in Iraq.

Their cause outraged millions of Iranians, who saw it as a betrayal of their religion.

Islam, they said, asked Muslims to submit peacefully to authority. But these students wanted to show the West that they could take over.

Dec. 19, 1979: Iranian-American hostage crisis begins

The early days of the crisis were peaceful. Diplomatic staff and students emerged unharmed after just five hours. But the negotiations that followed proved far more fraught.

The students threatened to cut off food and water to all hostages unless Iran’s deposed monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was released. He would be released shortly, with orders from Khomeini, who supported him.

So the United States negotiated a deal to bring the Shah back and lift the state of siege imposed on the US embassy.

In exchange, Khomeini would release eight Americans living in Iran. One of them was former university professor Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the highest ranking Iranian in the United States to face trial.

Dec. 20, 1979: US hostage crisis is in full swing

The schoolteacher was one of the few individuals allowed access to the embassy during the embassy takeover. However, he was soon arrested and was accused of conspiring with the CIA to overthrow the regime.

After a month-long investigation by the intelligence ministry, Bani-Sadr was sentenced to death.

He appealed, but was sentenced again to death by Iran’s Supreme Court.

Dec. 29, 1979: Holiday hiatus

The holiday hiatus until Jan. 9 allowed for further negotiations to take place. The following day, a compromise deal was reached.

The U.S. agreed to release the Shah and eight Americans if Khomeini agreed to free Bani-Sadr and release other Iranian exiles. He did.

Christmas Day

The embassy employees returned to the compound. The Iranian authorities felt the matter was resolved.

The United States did not comment on the issue.

No longer hostages

But Khomeini did not share the goodwill shown by Iran’s leader in July.

On Dec. 30, the hardliners announced their demands for the Americans. They called for a delegation to be sent to Washington to release two former hostages accused of espionage.

The United States refused to agree to the demand.

Also included in the demand was the release of Karzai Khodaman, the head of a dissident faction of the intelligence ministry.

That same day, some Iranian hardliners occupied the US embassy again, as well as a press center.

The following day, Iran’s supreme leader finally set the whole affair to rest.

On Christmas Day, 1979, Khomeini said the standoff was over.

By December 1981, Bani-Sadr had been freed, but the deal fell apart and the United States refused to release the remaining hostages. The current Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, was a student at the university at the time and, consequently, unable to negotiate.

Leave a Comment