Iran Hostage Crisis Fast Facts
Iran Hostage Crisis Fast Facts


Here’s a look at the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, in which 52 US citizens were held captive for 444 days.

1978 – Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s authoritarian rule sparks demonstrations and riots.

January 16, 1979 – The Shah flees Iran and goes to Egypt.

February 1, 1979 – Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returns to Iran, after 14 years in exile, to lead the country.

October 22, 1979 – The Shah is allowed to enter the United States to receive medical treatment for cancer.

November 4, 1979 – Iranian students demonstrating outside of the US embassy in Tehran storm the embassy and take 90 people hostage including 66 Americans. The students demand the extradition of the Shah from the United States. Ayatollah Khomeini issues a statement of support for the students’ actions.

November 5, 1979 – The Iranian government cancels military treaties with the US and the Soviet Union, treaties that would permit US or Soviet military intervention.

November 6, 1979 – Premier Mehdi Bazargan and his government resign, leaving Ayatollah Khomeini and the Revolutionary Council in power.

November 7, 1979 US President Jimmy Carter sends former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Senate Intelligence Committee staff director William Miller to Iran to negotiate the release of the hostages. Ayatollah Khomeini refuses to meet with them.

November 14, 1979 – Carter orders Iranian assets in US banks frozen.

November 17, 1979 – Khomeini orders the release of female and African-American hostages. They are released November 19 and 20, bringing the total number of US hostages to 53.

December 4, 1979 – The United Nations Security Council passes a resolution calling for Iran to release the hostages.

December 15, 1979 – The Shah leaves the United States for Panama.

January 28, 1980 – Six American embassy employees, who avoided capture and hid in the homes of Canadian Embassy officers, flee Iran. In 1997 it is revealed that, along with the Canadian government, the CIA made the escape possible.

March 1980 – The Shah returns to Egypt.

April 7, 1980 – President Carter cuts diplomatic ties with Iran, announcing further sanctions and ordering all Iranian diplomats to leave the United States.

April 25, 1980 – Eight US servicemen are killed when a helicopter and a transport plane collide during a failed attempt to rescue the hostages.

July 11, 1980 – Another hostage is released due to illness. The total number of US hostages is now 52.

July 27, 1980 – The Shah dies of cancer in Egypt.

September 12, 1980 – Ayatollah Khomeini sets new terms for the hostages’ release, including the return of the late Shah’s wealth and the unfreezing of Iranian assets.

November 1980-January 1981 – Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher and his delegation work through mediators in Algeria to negotiate the release of the hostages.

January 19, 1981 – The United States and Iran sign an agreement to release the hostages and unfreeze Iranian assets.

January 20, 1981 – The remaining 52 US hostages are released and flown to Wiesbaden Air Base in Germany.

December 18, 2015 – Congress passes a budget bill that includes a provision authorizing each of the 53 hostages to receive $10,000 for each day they were held captive. In addition, spouses and children will separately receive a one-time payment of $600,000.

November 19, 2019 – The act is amended to include victims of the September 11 terror attacks, reducing the amount of available funds to compensate the former hostages.

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