2011 attack on the British Embassy in Iran

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2011 attack on the British Embassy in Tehran
British Embassy Storming 03.jpg

Tehran topo.svg
Red pog.svg
The attack site
Date 29 November 2011
Location Jomhouri, Tehran, Iran
35°41′47″N 51°25′09″E / 35.69639°N 51.41917°E / 35.69639; 51.41917
Methods Demonstrations, rioting, online activism, infiltration
Number
Several thousand protesters[citation needed]
Casualties
Injuries ~20 Iranian protesters[citation needed]
~3 British officials[citation needed]
Arrested 12 Iranian protesters[citation needed]

The 2011 attack on the British Embassy in Iran was a mob action on 29 November 2011 by a crowd of Iranian protesters who stormed the embassy and another British diplomatic compound in Tehran, Iran ransacking offices and stealing documents. One small building was set on fire during the incident and several people were injured.[1] Iranian opposition student groups condemned the storming of the embassy and Advar Takhim said the attackers were from the basij militia, a paramilitary force that has played a significant role in the government's response to protests organised by various student, women and political movements.[2]

Background[edit]

The British government had imposed numerous sanctions on Iran regarding concerns over the nature of Iran's nuclear program. Following the release of a November 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency report that documented weaponisation elements of Iran's nuclear activities, the British government banned all financial institutions in the United Kingdom doing business with their counterparts in Iran, including Iran's central bank.[3] Iran responded by approving a bill to downgrade its ties with the United Kingdom, including a requirement for both countries to withdraw their respective ambassadors.[4] This was not the first time that Iran has called for downgrading ties with the United Kingdom.[5][6]

Incursion[edit]

About 1,000 people gathered near the embassy to demand that the British ambassador be sent home immediately. The rally began quietly, but some participants stormed the building, breaking down the door, throwing around papers and replacing the British flag with an Iranian one.[7][8] The Iranian security forces initially did not intervene as protesters entered the British Embassy.[9][10][11] Protesters removed the mission's flag and ransacked offices.[12] The protesters chanted, "Death to America", "Death to England" and "Death to Israel", among other slogans.[3]

According to the British Ambassador to Iran Dominick Chilcott, protesters rampaged through the embassy building, destroying paintings and furniture, spraying graffiti, smashing windows and starting fires. Seven embassy staff were seized by protesters but were eventually escorted out by police. The protesters also stole mobile phones and computers.[13]

British Prime Minister David Cameron described the incursion as "outrageous and indefensible" and demanded that Iran immediately ensure the safety of all British Embassy personnel. Foreign Secretary William Hague said the "irresponsible action" had put the safety of diplomats and their families at risk and caused extensive damage to embassy property.[14] Some anti-UK students had gathered at the front of Gholhak Garden in the north of Tehran. They also pulled down a picture of the Queen and burned an embassy vehicle, as well as US, Israeli and UK flags. The protesters said they wanted to shut down the embassy. Protesters also targeted Gholhak Garden, a British diplomatic compound in northern Tehran whose ownership has been a source of contention between Iranian and UK officials.[15] Iran expressed regret over the attacks and police arrested 12 protesters.[16]

Perpetrators[edit]

Iranian state media agencies and certain international news sources described the protests as a reaction of students against Britain's anti-Iran policies.[17][18] The demonstrators themselves issued an official statement, declaring, "Our actions are a spontaneous reaction of revolutionary students and were not ordered by any state organ."[18]

In a statement to the House of Commons on 30 November, Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "Iran is a country where Opposition leaders are under house arrest, more than 500 people have been executed so far this year and where genuine protest is ruthlessly stamped on. The idea that the Iranian authorities could not have protected our Embassy or that this assault could have taken place without some degree of regime consent is fanciful".[19]

Some analysts, media sources and Iranian opposition groups assert that the attack was orchestrated by the Iranian authorities, hence the strong British reaction.[3][17][18][20] Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tehran, Dorsa Jabbari, reported that the Iranian police and various ministries had prior knowledge of the protest, which was organised by the student arm of the Basij.

Police reportedly "stood back and let the protestors make their way into the compound". In the words of The Economist, "This was the centre of the capital city . . . If the police had wanted to stop this, they could have flooded the compound with officers and rescued the British. The police, and whoever was pulling the strings behind the attack, chose not to intervene for a long while".[21]

Jabbari stated, "Any such action of this scale can never be independent in the Islamic Republic".[3] Dominick Chilcott told the BBC, Iran is a country in which such action is only taken "with the acquiescence and the support of the state".[22]

Reactions[edit]

Within Iran[edit]

Iran's Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the attack, calling it "unacceptable" and said that it happened "despite the efforts made by the Iranian Law Enforcement Police and reinforcement of the embassy guards". Iranian police arrested 12 protesters in connection with the attack.[16]

Two Iranian opposition student groups, Tahkim Vahdat and Advar Tahkim, issued statements criticising the attack. Tahkim Vahdat said that those behind it were "not true representative of Iranian students, they were affiliated with the authorities in power".[17]

Iran's Deputy Police Chief Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan announced that police have started investigations into the details of the protests, in which angry self-driven protesters raided and occupied the British embassy and its garden in Northern Tehran.[16]

Iranian MP Parviz Sorouri, a senior member of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said that "the British government's hasty decision to close down the Iranian Embassy in London has created a new situation for both sides. But the Iranian government will do its utmost to stand up for the rights of Iranian citizens living in Britain through the establishment of an interests section in London".[23]

Subsequently, the Sultanate of Oman agreed to act as a protecting power, representing the interests of Iran through its embassy in London.

Within the United Kingdom[edit]

Following the incident, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a statement saying that "we are outraged by this. It is utterly unacceptable and we condemn it". Later that evening David Cameron described the Iranian Government's failure to protect the embassy as a "disgrace".[24] On 30 November 2011, during a speech to the House of Commons, Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that the Iranian Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, his ambassadorial staff and other Iranian diplomats had 48 hours to leave the United Kingdom. The foreign secretary also announced that he had closed the British Embassy, and its staff and dependants had left Tehran. This brought the United Kingdom's relations with Iran to their lowest level, and both the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister had warned of far more "serious consequences" towards Iran, for its failure to uphold its international obligations in line with the Vienna Convention.[25]

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the BBC's Sarah Rainsford that the UK's relationship with Iran had "taken a very serious knock" but that "It doesn't mean we're cutting off all diplomatic relations with Iran. It doesn't mean we are in any way lessening our determination to try to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear question, which is immensely important to Europe and the whole world, and we will continue to work tirelessly to find a negotiated solution".[26]

In November 2013, Iran and the UK agreed to end the protecting power arrangements of Sweden and Oman and appointed non-resident charge d'affaires to conduct bilateral relations between London and Tehran.

In June 2014, the UK announced that it intended to reopen its embassy in Tehran once practical arrangements had been completed and predicted that Iran would reopen its embassy in London.

United Nations[edit]

The United Nations Security Council condemned the attacks "in the strongest terms".

United States[edit]

United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described the attacks as an "affront" to the international community.[27] US Vice-President Joe Biden said he had no evidence the attack on the British embassy in Tehran was orchestrated by Iranian authorities, but it was another example of why the country was a "pariah".[28]

EU member states[edit]

Norway announced its decision to close its embassy in Tehran due to security concerns following the storming of Britain's mission. Hilde Steinfeld, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman in Oslo, said the decision to close the embassy was taken late on Tuesday 29 November 2011, but that Norway's diplomatic staff had not yet been evacuated and were still in Tehran.[29]

France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors to discuss the diplomatic matter, with Austria stating they are considering a similar decision.[30][31]

While not recalling its own ambassador, Sweden summoned the Iranian Ambassador to the Swedish Foreign Ministry.[32] Germany offered to act as a protecting power for the United Kingdom's diplomatic duties in Iran;[33] Sweden took on those diplomatic duties as of July 2012.[34] Hungary declined to recall its Ambassador to Iran following a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers on 1 December, saying it would cripple normal day-to-day operations due to its limited staff. However the Hungarian government joined its European allies in condemning the incident.[35]

Russia and China[edit]

Russia condemned the attack, stating that the actions were "unacceptable and deserve condemnation".[36] China did not criticise Iran by name but stated that "the relevant action runs counter to international law and basic norms of international relations and should be handled appropriately."[37]

Canada[edit]

On 7 September 2012, Canada closed its embassy in Iran and declared all remaining Iranian diplomats in Canada personae non gratae, ordering them to leave the country within five days.[38]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "US President condemns embassy attack". radionz.co.nz. 30 November 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  2. ^ The Guardian, Iranian opposition student groups condemn storming of British embassy, 1 December 2011 [1]
  3. ^ a b c d "Iranian protesters storm UK embassy". Al Jazeera. 29 November 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  4. ^ "Iran council approves downgrading of UK ties". Al Jazeera. 28 November 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  5. ^ "Iran to mull decreasing ties with UK". Press TV. 11 April 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  6. ^ "Iran warns UK against further meddling". Press TV. 19 April 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  7. ^ "UK condemns embassy incursion in Iran". news8000.com. 29 November 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  8. ^ "Iranian students storm British Embassy in Tehran". weartv.com. 30 November 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  9. ^ Worth, Robert F.; Gladstone, Rick (29 November 2011). "Protesters Storm British Embassy in Tehran". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  10. ^ "Britain orders Iranian embassy closed, expels staff". Deutsche Welle. 30 November 2011. 
  11. ^ "Iran protesters storm British embassy". 29 November 2011. "The intrusion occurred as ranks of Iranian police in riot gear stood by, doing nothing." 
  12. ^ Anthony DiPaola and Pratish Narayanan (29 November 2011). "Iran Financial Sanctions Set to Shrink Circle of Foreign Buyers of Crude". Bloomberg. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  13. ^ Adrian Croft (2 December 2011). "UK envoy tells of fear as mob rampage in Iran embassy". Reuters. 
  14. ^ "UK condemns embassy incursion in Iran". ksat.com/news. 29 November 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  15. ^ "Iran protesters attack UK embassy in Tehran". standupamericaus.org. 29 November 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  16. ^ a b c "Iranian Foreign Ministry Regrets Raid on Britain's Embassy". Fars News Agency. 30 November 2011. 
  17. ^ a b c Saeed Kamali Dehghan (1 December 2011). "Iranian opposition student groups condemn storming of British embassy". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  18. ^ a b c "British embassy attack was state-sponsored, experts claim". Deutsche Welle. 30 November 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  19. ^ "Foreign Secretary statement to the House of Commons on British Embassy Tehran". Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 30 November 2011. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  20. ^ Najah Mohamed Ali (1 December 2011). "UK embassy attack orchestrated by Iranian authorities: sources". Al Arabiya. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  21. ^ "Britain and Iran: A very near miss for Britain's diplomats in Iran". The Economist. 2 December 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  22. ^ "Attack on UK embassy in Iran 'had support of the state'". BBC. 3 December 2011. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  23. ^ "It's humble pie or bitter fruit for Britain". Mehr News Agency. 2 December 2011. 
  24. ^ "Storming of British Embassy in Iran". Fco.gov.uk. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  25. ^ James Reynolds (9 November 2011). "UK to expel all Iranian diplomats over embassy attack". BBC. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  26. ^ "Attack on UK embassy in Iran 'had support of the state". BBC. 3 December 2011. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  27. ^ UK: "Serious consequences" for Iran attack. CBS News. 30 November 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
  28. ^ "Biden: No indication Iran orchestrated embassy attack". Reuters. 1 December 2011. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  29. ^ "Timeline: Norway closes embassy in Iran after Brits attacked". http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/world/main202.shtml. 30 November 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011. [dead link]
  30. ^ Erdbrink, Thomas; Warrick, Joby (30 November 2011). "Iran faces increased isolation after attack on British Embassy". The Washington Post. 
  31. ^ "UK expels Iranian diplomats after embassy attack; French, German, Dutch envoys recalled". Yahoo! News. 30 November 2011. 
  32. ^ "Sweden summons Iran envoy after storming". The Local. 30 November 2011. 
  33. ^ Pomeroy, Robin; Mitra Amiri (30 November 2011). "UPDATE 8-UK expels Iran diplomats after embassy attack". Reuters. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  34. ^ Castle, Tim and Shanley, Mia (12 July 2012). "Sweden to watch British interests in Iran". Reuters. Retrieved 8 September 2012. 
  35. ^ Andras M. Badics (2 December 2011). "Hungary keeps Ambassador in Iran". The Budapest report. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  36. ^ "Iran attack: UK embassy stormed in Tehran". Russia: RT. 29 November 2011. 
  37. ^ "China refuses to criticise Iran by name for UK embassy attack". Straits Times. Singapore. 30 November 2011. 
  38. ^ Ljunggren, Davod (7 September 2012). "Canada closes Iran embassy, to expel remaining Iranian diplomats". Reuters. Retrieved 7 September 2012. 

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