Dozens of Iranian students have stormed the UK embassy in Tehran, chanting “death to England.” Before police intervened, protesters pelted the embassy with stones and petrol bombs, brought down the flag, and destroyed a pile of classified documents.
Police have released six employees of the embassy who had been taken hostage in the compound in northern Tehran earlier today, Fars reported.
Reports by the Mehr news agency that six UK staff had been taken hostage when students raided a north Tehran diplomatic compound were withdrawn shortly after they were posted. No explanation was given for the report, nor its removal.
There are conflicting reports as to whether any of the embassy workers were actually taken hostage. The British foreign secretary, William Hague, has said that all staff and diplomats of the embassy are accounted for, reports Reuters.
The police have managed to take control of the protests and have forced all demonstrators to leave both compounds of the embassy.
There were several attacks on two compounds of the British embassy in Tehran on Tuesday. After the first attack was contained and most of the protesters had been removed from the embassy, some students repeated the assault.
"Some students and ordinary people managed to break into the British compound again," Fars news agency reported.
Reinforcements were called to the scene, including heavily armed riot police.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying that it regrets the attack on the British embassy and is committed to ensuring diplomats’ safety, Reuters reported.
During the clashes with protesters, Iranian police have used tear gas to disperse the crowd, Fars reported. Police have also been using water cannons to push the protesters back from the embassy’s main entrance and force them to climb down from the gate.
Earlier a group of students climbed over the embassy’s gate, rushed to the building and started showering it with stones and petrol bombs. Some of the protesters managed to get inside the building and were reported to be throwing documents from the windows.
Meanwhile, a separate group of protesters broke into another British embassy compound and seized classified documents, official Irna news agency reported.
Protesters also were burning documents seized from the embassy’s offices, Mehr News Agency reported.
The protesters chanted “Down with Britain”, “Down with America”, “Down with Israel” and “Students are Awake and Hate Britain,” according to Fars news agency.
One of the protesters was seen climbing the wall with a portrait of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II that was apparently looted from the embassy.
The British government has confirmed "a serious incursion" at UK embassy in Tehran and asked Iranian government to make every effort to end the crisis immediately.
Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office is outraged by the incursion of a "significant number of demonstrators" into the British embassy in Tehran. "We are outraged by this. It is utterly unacceptable and we condemn it,” a statement at the FCO’s internet site says.
The FCO also updated its travel advice for British nationals in Iran, saying that they should “stay indoors, keep a low profile and await further advice."
"This is a fluid situation and details are still emerging,” the statement said.
William Hague has commented on the situation, saying that Iran now faces "serious consequences." He also called the storming a "grave breach" of the Vienna Convention on diplomats' rights.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry has condemned the attack on the UK embassy in Iran.
"The actions of the crowd of protesters, committed in breach of the commonly accepted principles of international law, which guarantee immunity for the territory and property of diplomatic missions, are unacceptable and deserve condemnation," the ministry’s statement said. “We hope that the Iranian authorities will take necessary measures to immediately restore order, investigate the incident and prevent a repeat of such incidents.”
Tuesday’s protest was initially staged as a peaceful one, as thousands gathered to commemorate the anniversary of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari’s death. According to the Iranian government he was murdered in a joint operation by Israel’s Mossad and UK’s MI6.
This siege comes two days after Iran downgraded the diplomatic and trade ties with UK. That was done in response to earlier UK government’s decision to tighten economic sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.
Just about a month ago, on November 4, Iran marked the anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the US embassy with thousands of Iranians chanting “death to America” in front of what they call “the den of spies.”
On November 4, 1979, revolutionary-minded Iranian students stormed the US embassy and took 52 diplomats hostage in support of the Islamic Revolution. The US citizens were held hostage for 444 days up to January 20, 1981.
This conflict resulted in breaking of all diplomatic and economic ties between the countries for more than three decades.
Mark Almond, a visiting professor of international relations from Bilkent University in Turkey, believes that the attack on the UK embassy is more of a “symbolic incident” than a repetition of the hostage crisis on 1979.
“The British embassy staff seemed to be expecting this and escaped through the back door,” he said.
Almond says that the real question is whether this situation will be used to raise tensions and whether “Iran’s nuclear projects are going to be attacked by the West, by the United States and its allies, either directly with military forces, or indirectly using some kind of cyber warfare.”
Almond added that situation is dangerous because many Iranians believe “that the West is engaged in sabotage and a terrorist plot against them.”
See more pictures of UK embassy looting here