SAS hero reveals that terrorists have nearly taken off a grenade disguised as a hostage in the siege of the Iranian embassy
A SAS hero from the siege of the Iranian embassy has revealed how the raid almost turned into a bloodbath when a terrorist disguised as a hostage attempted to fire an explosive device.
Warrant Officer Ian White was one of 32 commandos who famously stormed the London building to end the 1980 six-day hostage situation.
While helping to evacuate all 25 hostages, he saw one of the terrorists trying to disguise himself as a civilian while holding a live hand grenade.
Thirty-two commandos famously stormed the London building, pictured, to end the 1980 six-day hostage situation
Warrant Officer Ian White, pictured on the left in 1980 and pictured on the right today, was one of 32 commandos famously stormed the London building
After taking the hostages, the terrorists demanded the release of prisoners in Iran and a safe passage from Britain
The SAS, pictured as they stormed the embassy, exercised their hostage release tactics on the full-size mock-up of the site built on their temporary base in Regent’s Park Barracks
Unable to get a shot because of the innocent civilians getting in the way, he shouted a colleague at the foot of the stairs who received a warning to the hostages.
Prior to the 40th anniversary of the event, WO White, now 64 years old, said, “I grabbed this person and turned him over and sent him down the stairs when I realized it was a terrorist and he had a grenade.
“I looked over the balcony that looked out over the main staircase and I yelled at the team under the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘grenade’.
Fortunately, he was taken care of by the time he went down. He was met by a hail of bullets before he could release his grenade. If it had gone off, we would have lost many hostages. ‘
After the legendary 17-minute mission of rescuing all hostages alive and killing five of the six Arab terrorists, the commandos returned to their base next door.
WO White said, “We were met by our police detective who was still there and he was stunned because the first thing one of us said to him ‘who won the snooker’.”
During the time spent by the 50 SAS men sitting next door waiting for orders to go, they eased boredom by watching the 1980 World Snooker Finals Championships.
The captivating match between Cliff Thorburn and Alex Higgins was so compelling that when the BBC cut off the live broadcast for the latest news of the SAS attack, the BBC was overrun with complaints.
On April 30, 1980, the six armed men burst into the embassy in South Kensington to expose the persecution of Arabs in the Iranian region of Khuzestan.
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein supported the attack because he believed it would help him gain international support to invade Iran.
The six armed men stormed into the embassy in South Kensington on April 30, 1980 to expose the persecution of Arabs in the Iranian region of Khuzestan
Two 50-man counterterrorist teams were driven to London and moved secretly on May 1
During the legendary 17-minute mission, all hostages were rescued alive, pictured, and five of the six Arab terrorists were killed
After taking the hostages, the terrorists demanded the release of prisoners in Iran and a safe passage from Britain.
More than 240 miles away in Hereford – the home of the SAS – WO White’s pager was activated and called up for an emergency briefing on the development situation.
Two 50-man counterterrorist teams were driven to London and moved secretly on May 1.
The following days, the unit gathered intelligence – the Embassy concierge revealed that the ground floor windows were armored – and planned for the attack.
The commandos were each divided over three floors of the embassy and the location of the hostages and terrorists.
The hostages were marked “X”. Two figures with stickmen represented PC Trevor Lock, who was tasked with guarding the embassy, and the highest diplomat in charge and injured trying to escape.
The seriousness of the situation escalated after the execution of the embassy’s chief press officer, Abbas Lavasani, on May 5 at 1:45 pm.
WO White said, “We waited, the plans were formulated and then the first body appeared and it shook everything.
“We were assisted when the negotiations got shorter. Negotiations got to the point where the terrorists said they would kill more people.
“We knew then that there was only a chime to end the situation.
“We took our positions about 30 minutes before the attack.”
On the fifth day of the siege, a police officer leans out of the window with two terrorists
The commandos were each divided over three floors of the embassy and the location of the hostages and terrorists
Outside, watched by millions on TV, SAS soldiers Mel Parry and John McAleese go to the balcony with explosives attached to a frame and placed against the office window
WO White’s attack team was on the roof over a light well, while another team of black-clad commandos gathered on the front balcony, in view of the TV cameras.
When the order came to go, an explosive that had already been lowered went out of the light box.
WO White scrambled down on a caving ladder and entered the building on the fourth floor. He and his team then had the task of clearing all the rooms on the third floor.
He said, “Our weapons were in front of us, and every door we reached forced us open, threw in a flash (stun grenades) and went straight in the back and cleared the room. We cleared our floor very quickly and there was nothing.
“We didn’t have to fire shots.”
When WO White led the way to the second floor, he was almost killed by friendly fire. He was about to step down the last flight of stairs and enter the hall when an experienced colleague withdrew him.
He said, “Another man on the second floor lit an open fire down the hall. If I had taken that step, I would have been a victim. I still think about what if I got out.
“Then we started to take the hostages from the second floor.
“I don’t know the name of the terrorist I walked down the stairs. I don’t know any of their names. Why should I keep that information?
“It wasn’t about the SAS, but to make sure that hostages survived.
“We were then called to evacuate because the building was on fire.”
After the raid, the unit was taken to the Regents Park Barracks for a debriefing and to meet the Prime Minister.
Margaret and Denis Thatcher entered when the BBC News was released.
Ian, who lives in Wiltshire, said, “Beer was passed around. Someone got a TV and we were on the news. Then Margaret and Denis Thatcher arrived.
“She had this gorgeous haircut and she sat down in front of the TV and our sniper commander shouted from behind ‘move your head Maggie’.
“Give the lady what’s due to her, she just looked back and said sorry and stepped aside.”
WO White joined the military in 1972 at the age of 17 and served in the 17th / 21st Lancers, stationed in Germany and Northern Ireland.
In 1978, he joined the SAS and was successful on his first attempt.
He served in the Falklands and left the SAS in 1985 and retired from the military ten years later.
Before retiring two years ago, he worked as a caregiver at a special school in Hampshire.
In 2017, he sold his General Service Medal with Closure for Northern Ireland, the South Atlantic Medal, the Regular Army Long Service and the Good Conduct Medal for £ 30,000 to help him retire.
Siege of the Iranian Embassy: the day the SAS emerged from the shadows
The siege began when a group of six gunmen burst into the Iranian embassy in South Kensington, London on April 30, 1980.
They mainly held hostage embassies, but also BBC sound recorder Sim Harris, who was at the embassy to get a visa.
PC Trevor Locke, a member of the diplomatic protection and on-duty team at the building, was also among those shot at gunpoint.
The terrorists demanded the release of prisoners in the Iranian province of Khuzestan in southern Iran during a series of tense negotiations with the police who sealed off the embassy and surrounding streets. The shooters also demanded safe passage from Britain.
Frustrated with the lack of progress for five days, they shot one of the hostages and threw his body out of the embassy.
Death signaled the submission of the SAS motto Who Dares Wins.
The SAS teams, which had secretly arrived from their base in Hereford, London, were given permission by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to conduct a rescue mission under the code name Operation Nimrod.
On the evening of May 5, the TV news cut to normal programming to broadcast the beginning of the end of the siege, as the black-clad SAS soldiers rappel down the front of the building.
Millions watched in awe as they threw grenades into the building to begin their attack.
BBC cinematographer Sim Harris was captured as he came to safety jumping over a balcony as the smoke rose from the building after a curtain caught fire.
What cameras didn’t see were the other teams – including Horsfall and Firmin – that fell through the building in a race to free the hostages before being shot.
The robbery lasted only 17 minutes and all but one of the six shooters were shot.
A second hostage was shot by the gunmen and two others were seriously injured.
The raid on television marked the first time that the British public had seen the Special Forces soldiers in action and elevated them to superstar status.
The surviving gunman, Fawsi Najad, was sentenced to life and released in 2008 after 27 years. He was given leave to stay in the UK.