Diplomatic Dramas: Assange 'Siege' Joins the List of Crises Involving Embassies

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Assange was manhandled out of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on Thursday and is now in custody awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of failing to surrender to Westminster magistrates court in 2012 when he was facing rape allegations in Sweden, which have since been dropped.

He now faces extradition to the US over federal conspiracy charges relating to the leak of diplomatic cables by former US Marine Chelsea Manning.

Assange is not the first person to seek refuge in an embassy, which is a diplomatic enclave which represents a foreign country in the host nation.

​Embassies and consulates have been the subject of significant drama over the years.

Iranian Embassy Siege, London 1980

In February 1979 the Shah of Iran had been overthrown and the Islamic Republic was born.

But Ayatollah Khomeini’s Farsi-speaking government had a stubborn Arab-speaking minority in the south west province of Khuzestan, or Arabistan, which wanted independence from Persian-dominated Iran.

On the morning of 30 April 1980 six gunmen burst into the Iranian Embassy in Kensington, west London, overpowering PC Trevor Lock, the solitary police officer who was on guard duty.

He was disarmed and taken hostage, along with 25 diplomats and other embassy staff.

A siege lasted for six days with the government in Tehran refusing to listen to the gunmen’s demands, which included “an independent Arabistan” and the release from jail in Iran of 91 Arabs.

On 5 May British Special Air Service (SAS) commandos assaulted the building, killing five gunmen and capturing the sixth. One of the hostages was killed in the crossfire but the others were freed.

The BBC cut away from live coverage of the World Snooker Championships to broadcast the dramatic events live.

Four months later Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, seeking to take advantage of local Arabs’ hostility towards Tehran in Khuzestan, invaded Iran and captured the city of Khorramshahr. The Iran-Iraq War was to last eight years and end in stalemate.

Attack on the Japanese Embassy, Lima 1996

In the 1980s and 1990s Peru battled a left-wing insurgency by two left-wing guerrilla groups, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, and the larger Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).

In 1992 the Shining Path’s leader, Abimael Guzman — known as Chairman Gonzalo — was captured and the group rapidly collapsed.

But the Tupac Amaru remained a threat and on 17 December 1996 they attacked the Japanese Embassy in the capital, Lima.

President Alberto Fujimori’s ancestors were Japanese and the guerrillas may have hoped he would be attending a Christmas gala at the embassy.

He was not but the gunmen took hundreds of diplomats and dignitaries hostage.

The terrorists demanded the release of their comrades in jail but Fujimori refused.

After a 126 day siege he sent in Peruvian commandos, who killed all 14 guerrillas.

Withdrawal from US Embassy, Saigon 1975

The Vietnam War was a military and political disaster for the United States and one of the most enduring images of it is the withdrawal of the last US forces from Saigon — the capital of the puppet state of South Vietnam — in 1975.

Seven years earlier the US embassy compound had come under attack from Viet Cong fighters during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

In January 1973 US President Nixon agreed to withdraw all American troops from Vietnam, which led to the gradual collapse of the South.

By April 1975 the North Vietnamese Army had reached Saigon and the US ordered Operation Frequent Wind in an attempt to evacuate all Americans and hundreds of Vietnamese nationals who were believed to be at risk from the communist forces.

Thousands of Vietnamese nationals who had collaborated with the Americans climbed over the walls to get into the US Embassy in Saigon as helicopters evacuated people to aircraft carriers off the coast.

Just before 5am on 30 April the US Ambassador, Graham Martin, clambered aboard one of the last helicopters, which took off from the roof of the embassy and landed on the USS Blue Ridge.

The last chopper left at 8am. Three hours later North Vietnamese troops and began poring through classified CIA documents which embassy staff had not had time to shred.

The war was over and America was humiliated.

Olivia Forsyth, Luanda 1988

During the 1980s, while the African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela was in prison, the white South African government fought a rearguard action against those who demanded an end to apartheid.

British-born Olivia Forsyth was a spy with the South African security forces who had gone undercover among anti-apartheid students and then posed as a journalist to attend ANC press conferences in Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania.

She then secretly defected to the ANC and revealed details about the South African Security Branch.

But the ANC became suspicious of her and she was detained at a camp in northern Angola for seven months. She was released after the intervention of South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani and spent 15 months in an ANC safe house in the Angolan capital, Luanda.

On 2 May 1988 Forsyth fled to the British Embassy in Luanda and demanded sanctuary. She claimed the ANC were planning to swap her for prisoners held in South Africa and she feared she would be executed as a traitor in Johannesburg.

The Angolan government refused to allow her to fly out of the country — to Britain — and the British refused to allow her to be used in a prisoner exchange deal.

After 198 days her release was finally negotiated and she flew to London, via Paris.

In 2015 she wrote her biography — Agent 407: A South African Spy Breaks Her Silence.

Libyan Embassy Shooting, London 1984

On 17 April 1984 WPC Yvonne Fletcher was one of a number of police officers keeping order as a group of protesters opposed to Colonel Gaddafi demonstrated noisily outside the Libyan Embassy in St James’s Square, central London.

Suddenly shots rang out.

Home Office ready to order SAS to terrorist crisis – without knowledge of police.

Confidential memo – revealed @FOIACentre through FOIA – outlined secret policy after shooting of Yvonne Fletcher and Libyan embassy siege 35 years ago exactly on Wednesday. https://t.co/hJ83VsoQOL

​People dived for cover as bullets were fired from a window of the embassy, officially known as the Libyan People’s Bureau.

WPC Fletcher, 25, lay on the ground with a bullet wound in her back. She was urging the terrified demonstrators to keep calm.

She lost consciousness and died in hospital two hours later.

Britain broke off diplomatic relations with Libya and ordered all those in the People’s Bureau to return to Tripoli.

Nobody was ever prosecuted for WPC Fletcher’s murder and in 2017 John Murray, a former police officer who was with her when she died, said he believed her killers were MI6 informants.

“I suspect that’s the reason for not bringing a prosecution,” Mr Murray told The Sun.

US Embassy Siege, Tehran 1979

The United States had been a close ally of the Shah of Iran and when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979 he labelled America “The Great Satan.”

Anti-American demonstrations took place in Tehran almost daily in 1979 and in November protesters broke into the US Embassy, angry at the refusal to send the Shah back to stand trial for the human rights abuses perpetrated by his Savak secret police.

Dozens of US diplomats and embassy staff were taken captive and remained hostages for the next 444 days.

The hostage crisis damaged President Jimmy Carter badly during an election year and matters were made worse in April 1980 when an attempted rescue mission — Operation Eagle Claw — ended in disaster.

Eight Delta Force commandos were killed when their helicopters collided in the desert in southern Iran and the rescue mission had to be aborted.

The remaining 52 hostages were finally released on 20 January 1981, just as the new President Ronald Reagan was being sworn in.

There has been persistent speculation that Reagan’s campaign team liaised with the Iranians through back channels to make sure the hostages were not released before the election in November 1980.

The Siberian Seven, Moscow 1978

Under the Soviet Union religion — not just Islam — was frowned upon and evangelical Protestant sects were loathed by the Kremlin.

Pentecostalists were frequently sentenced to 20 years in the GULAGs.

In June 1978 a group of seven Pentecostalists from Siberia ran past guards and entered the US Embassy in Moscow.

​They were soon christened the “Siberian Seven” and they lived in the embassy basement for five years, claiming sanctuary and hoping for a new life in the US.

On 27 June 1983 President Leonid Brezhnev finally acquiesced and allowed them to be flown to the US, via Israel.

Benghazi Consulate Attack, Libya 2012

On 11 September 2012 — more than a year after Colonel Gaddafi had been ousted and killed — the US mission in Benghazi, eastern Libya was attacked and burned, killing US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

More than 30 Americans were evacuated.

Initially the attack was thought to have been carried by an angry mob enraged by an American video which purportedly mocked the Prophet Mohammad.

But it later emerged it was a deliberate attack by a jihadist group, Ansar al-Sharia.

The bureaucratic inertia at the US State Department which allowed the attack to take place reflected badly on Hillary Clinton and dogged her during the 2016 presidential campaign.  

Freddy Guevara Cortez, Caracas, 2017

Now that Julian Assange has been arrested, the only one man hiding in an embassy anywhere in the world is Freddy Guevara Cortez.

Guevara, 33, is the former Vice President of the Venezuelan National Assembly who took refuge in the Chilean embassy in Caracas on 4 November 2017.

He took the dramatic step after Venezuela’s Supreme Court lifted his parliamentary immunity to prosecution.

​The government of President Nicolas Maduro accuses him of criminal association, continuous public instigation, and use of minors to commit crimes.

Guevara was the national coordinator of the right-wing Popular Will party and was one of the leaders of months of demonstrations against the Maduro government. The charges relate to his alleged role in stirring up violence during protests.

The Chilean government has said it is willing to offer Guevara political asylum.

But the grandson of ousted Chilean President Salvador Allende, Pablo Sepulveda Allende, has criticised Chile and called Guevara the “intellectual culprit of hate crimes and arson attacks on public institutions.”

© Sputnik/ Alex McNaughton



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