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The Regiment by Michael Asher

Extract 1 from The Regiment by Michael Asher, published by Viking.

Iranian Embassy Siege

On Monday 5 May 1980 SAS troops stormed the Iranian Embassy in London which had been stormed by Arab terrorists who had taken hostages. SAS teams were surreptitiously positioned around the building before mounting an assault

'That instant a deafening wallop ripped through the stairwell. One of the two stun-charges went off, so loud that it was heard miles away. On the front first-floor balcony, Team no 3 were setting their frame-charge in full view of the whirring TV cameras. At that moment, a window on the second floor above them creaked open and a terrorist leaned out and dropped a grenade. It was his last move. A split-second later a deadly accurate single round from a sniper in Hyde Park smacked into his skull. The grenade bounced off the balcony but failed to explode - he had forgotten to pull the pin. A policeman in the street below saw it clatter across the pavement.

Mac'A' detonated the frame-charge. It exploded with a whoomph and a mushroom of smoke, taking out not only the window but, unseen by the TV cameras, part of the balcony floor. The team had to jump across the gap to get into the building.

At the back Blue Team couldn't blow in the ground-floor doors for fear of injuring Staff-Sergeant 'Tak' Takavesi who had stuck on his rope five metres down and was now dangling above them. 'Tak' roared to the men still on the roof to cut him down. The rest of his team landed on the second-floor balcony. They demolished the windows with sledgehammers and lobbed flashbangs into the room. A second later they were inside. Their grenades had set the curtains ablaze and as the fire licked upwards, it enveloped the hanging team-leader's legs. 'Tak' kicked frantically outwards to avoid being roasted alive.

Across the landing, at the door of the ambassador's office, Mac'A' and his comrade found themselves facing 21 year old Thamir Mohammad Hussain, armed with a Browning 9mm pistol. Mac'A' threw a flashbang and his comrade fired his MP-5 twice. Thamir retreated, probably wounded and disappeared into the smoke.

Moving into the Ambassador's office 'Mac'A' suddenly got a whiff of CS gas through his respirator and backed out, coughing. A sergeant joined his mate and they entered the room together. Thamir crouched on a sofa by the window, pointing his pistol at them. They opened fire with their MP-5s, drilling his body with twenty-one rounds.

Team no 2 had broken into an empty office with locked doors. The flames were spreading and the room was already filled with smoke. A moment later 'Tak's' rope was cut. He crashed on to the balcony behind them and staggered in through the broken windows..

On the stairs the other SAS teams formed a human chain. They began to shove the hostages roughly down, bundling them from man to man. They were aware there was still a chance of the terrorists detonating explosive devices that would blow everyone sky-high. They wanted to clear the building as soon as possible. As the women were stumbling downstairs, Robin Horsfall of Team no 4 heard someone shout, "Watch out, he's a terrorist!" He glanced up to see one of the team, 'Soldier I' smash the butt of his MP-5 into the neck of a tall curly-haired terrorist. It was Faisal, who had sprayed the hostages with rounds from his SMG. 'Soldier I' had spotted a grenade in his hand but couldn't shoot because the team in the foyer was in his line of fire. "I raised the MP-5 above my head," he said, ".and brought the stock of the weapon down on the back of his neck. I hit him as hard as I could . He collapsed forward and rolled down the remaining few stairs."

The shooting petered out. The fire raged. Nineteen hostages lay spread-eagled on the lawn with their hands bound behind them, encircled by police dog-handlers. The second floor was wreathed in flames and smoke. Among the prostrate hostages was the sole survivor of the terrorist gang who had been hidden by one of the women. According to Horsfall, he was pulled to his feet by one of the SAS reception team and marched back towards the door of the embassy. Horsfall and another mate stopped them. We never knew fur sure what was in mind, but I had my suspicions.

The last of the teams was pulling out. At the Cabinet Office meeting Room de la Billiere put down his headphones. He told Whitelaw the operation had been largely successful. There were ecstatic cheers and a round of whisky.

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