WHEN an explosion rang out across Prince’s Gate in London, on May 5th 1980, Rusty Firmin heard the words “Go, go, go” and sprang into action.
After six long days of waiting and watching, his SAS team was about to storm into the Iranian embassy and rescue 19 hostages from brutal terrorists who had already shot one man and thrown his body on to the street.
The operation to end the siege lasted minutes but, broadcast live to the nation, the unfolding drama was one of the most unforgettable moments in British history.
It also shed light on the heroics of the SAS, whose highly skilled members had previously operated in the shadows.
Rusty – famously pictured without gloves as he prepared to enter the building – shot one of the terrorists dead at the scene, but he says there was no fear among the squad as they prepared to go in.
“We had a job to do and we just wanted to do it,” thew 70-year-old tells Sun Online. “We had been waiting and planning for six days, so when we heard the explosion and the 'go, go go' we were like coiled springs.
“All they wanted to do was get in there and rescue the hostages. And I was supposed to be playing in a football cup final that day, so I just wanted to get home.”
Negotiator 'feels like a failure' but saved lives
On April 30th, 1980, six armed men from the terrorist group KSA, led by Oan Ali Mohammed, stormed the Iranian embassy and took 26 staff and visitors hostage.
They demanded that Arab prisoners be released from the Iranian province of Khuzestan and requested their own safe passage out of the United Kingdom.
The UK government, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, refused and a siege ensued.
Over the next six days police negotiator Max Vernon talked to the terrorists, securing the release of five hostages in return for minor concessions, as he tried to persuade them to surrender.
In the meantime, under the cover of darkness, two crack SAS teams had been moving in and out of the building next door to the embassy, ready to strike at any time.
Rusty, the leader of the blue team, says the time Max bought the squad was the key to saving lives – even though he sees himself as a failure.
"Max Vernon didn't get the credit, but he kept them talking and all the time he was buying time for us, because if we had gone in on day one, it could have ended up very, very messy," says Rusty.
“Max feels he's a failure because he didn't talk them out of it, but all that time we were gaining information about what the terrorists were up to.
“Every time they came to the window, a picture was taken which told us what they looked like, what they were wearing, how many terrorists were inside and the intelligence guys would disseminate what they needed from that and pass it down to us.”
Next door to the embassy, where the two SAS teams were on watch for 12 hours shifts, the terrorists’ faces were put on posters and plastered on the walls.
At the nearby Regent’s Park barracks, the 56 rooms of the embassy were reconstructed in a gym, to give the soldiers an idea of the layout inside as they planned the end of the siege to every last detail.
Three shots and a body thrown into the street
At 1.45am, on the morning of May 6th, three shots were heard in the embassy as Abbas Lavasani, the Iranian press attache, was executed by the hostage takers.
Five hours later, Rusty and pal John McAleese were watching the final of the snooker World Championships and having a cup of tea when a call came through to say that Lavasani’s body had been thrown into the street. It was all systems go.
Seconds later, Rusty was pictured at the back door of the embassy, identifiable as the only one without gloves.
“I always put my gloves down the front of my body armour so that I have them with me at all times,” explains Rusty.
“This one time I came in, I put them on the table while we had a cup of tea and when we got that final call I got outside the building and went to put my gloves on and realised they weren't there. I confess I swore.”
Face-to-face with terrorist clutching a hand grenade
The soldiers silently positioned themselves at windows and doors around the building, with some abseiling from the roof to reach all the four floors and prepare to smash through windows.
“We had 34 guys scrambling all over the building to get into position so they don't get compromised and, believe it or not, that took just 16 minutes,” says Rusty.
“Then a grenade was dropped down a skylight, which was the great big explosion that everybody hears at the beginning of the TV footage, and that was our key to enter the building.
“We had to enter each floor and clear it simultaneously and my team, the Blue Team, came in from the ground floor and worked up while the Red Team did the roof downwards, and we met in the middle.”
With fire, caused by the grenade, raging in one room and the hostages and terrorists panicking and shouting, the scene inside was chaotic.
But the soldiers managed to usher all 19 hostages down the stairs and safely into the back garden of the embassy.
Then, Rusty came face to face with Oan’s second in command, Shakir Abdullah Radhil, known as 'Faisal'.
“I didn't actually know it was a terrorist coming towards me,” he says.
“I was in a stairwell and there was shouting from the first floor, which I found out later was a couple of SAS lads pointing and shouting to warn me.
"But there was a lot of commotion, people tripping on the stairs, people screaming, hand grenades going off, gunfire, smoke and gas in the air and I couldn’t understand what was being said.
“I was grabbing people, looking at them, throwing them down to the next group, and I grabbed hold of a jacket which was one of the ones I'd seen in the posters at the base.
“I turned him around and I recognised him as a terrorist, saw he was holding a grenade.
"He looked at me with an expression that said, ‘that’s me done’, I opened fire and he fell to the bottom of the stairs.”
'I'm happy I got to shoot Faisal'
The operation took just 11 minutes. Five of the six terrorists were killed and the sixth, Fowzi Nejad, was jailed for thirty years for terrorism offences.
At the time it was deemed he could not be deported to his native Iran, as he was likely to have been tortured or executed.
He was released in 2008 and now lives in London – a fact that makes Rusty’s blood boil.
“I’m told he’s on benefits and had somewhere to live in London given to him, which makes me really angry,” he says.
“We have soldiers on the street and yet people like that are being looked after.”
Forty years on, the memories of the siege are still fresh in Rusty’s mind but the immediate fallout was flashbacks and nightmares and, in 1993, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
But he says he has no regrets about killing Faisal.
“I didn't feel any sorrow for him because I found out afterwards that Faisal is the guy that executed Labazani on the stairs, which started all this,” he says.
“He was a second in command and he was also the bully boy, quite a big guy so I was quite happy that he came to me. I won't beat around the bush on that. That is a fact.
“We went in and we did what we were asked to do – saving 19 lives in the process.”
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