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The Iranian hostage crisis begins

The Story

On Nov. 4, 1979, masses of angry Iranian students gather to protest at the American embassy in Tehran. They are furious that the United States allowed Iran's deposed Shah into the country for medical treatment. What had been planned as an occupation soon escalates into something far more serious. More than 60 Americans are imprisoned inside the embassy, held hostage by the students' demand that the Shah be returned to face justice in Iran. In this CBC Radio report from one week after the crisis began, reporter Robert Fisk reads from a letter apparently written by hostage Kevin Hermening.

Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: Nov. 11, 1979
Host: Bronwyn Drainie
Reporter: Robert Fisk
Duration: 6:47
Photo: AP Photo

Did You know?

• When he was deposed in January 1979, Iran's Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi departed for Egypt. He was diagnosed with cancer later that year and requested permission to enter the United States for treatment. Despite warnings from the U.S. State Department that this could inflame tensions in Iran, the United States granted the Shah's request. • A group of about 600 students, calling itself Muslim Students of the Imam Khomeini Line, was responsible for the embassy takeover, which began as a protest outside the embassy gates. Armed with a set of bolt-cutters, someone severed the chain securing the gates and the mob stormed into the courtyard. After embassy staff scrambled into a brick chancellery building in the compound, U.S. Marines held off the crowd as long as possible. After several hours they were forced to surrender.

• Six of the U.S. embassy staff managed to escape to the safety of the Canadian embassy. Under heavy secrecy, the Canadians sheltered them and eventually, in an operation planned and executed by the C.I.A., smuggled them out of the country in what became known as the Canadian Caper. See a CBC Digital Archives clip about the escape and Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, who helped pull it off



Revolution in Iran more