Protesters storm UK embassy in Tehran
Rising tensions between Britain and Iran burst into a full-blown crisis yesterday when protesters stormed the UK embassy in Tehran, seizing classified documents and forcing staff to flee in panic.
About 50 students broke into the sprawling British compound in the city centre, smashed windows, ransacked offices and sprayed the walls with slogans including, "Down with the UK" and "England Get Lost", according to Iranian news outlets.
Television footage showed bearded men scaling the embassy gates, where the British flag had been replaced with the Iranian standard.
The attack came two days after Iran's parliament, the Majles, voted to expel Britain's ambassador, Dominick Chilcott, in retaliation for fresh British sanctions against Tehran's nuclear programme, which the West suspects is being used to create an atomic weapon.
The vote was accompanied by calls from several Iranian MPs to subject the British mission to a re-enactment of the 1979-81 takeover of the US embassy, when 53 American diplomats were held hostage for 444 days.
There were conflicting accounts about the fate of staff. Most Iranian news outlets reported that they fled through a back door. However, one agency, Mehr, said some had been taken hostage but later removed the story from its website. According to Iranian and Western sources, a group of men followed the demonstrators into the building, headed for specific locations and took documents. The files, identifying opposition figures, are believed to have been seized by Iran's security police.
There is deep concern in London that Iranian human rights activists may now be vulnerable. Very little intelligence material was kept in either the embassy or residential complex because the security of the buildings could not be guaranteed, security officials claimed. However, there may have been some paper work relating to people who had been in contact with the embassy at some point or other "for perfectly innocent reasons".
The Iranian foreign ministry last night expressed its regret over the attacks. However, Western diplomats are convinced that Monday's endorsement by the country's Guardian Council of a parliamentary vote to drastically cut diplomatic ties was seen as an official "green light" for the violence.
Demonstrators were seen holding portraits of the murdered Iranian nuclear scientists Majid Shahriari and Masoud Ali Mohammadi. Yesterday, marked the first anniversary of Shahriari's assassination in a car bomb attack. Iran alleges he was killed by Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad.
A speaker outside the embassy told protesters that all hostile acts against Iran could be traced back to Britain. (© Independent News Services)
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