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1981: Tehran frees US hostages after 444 days

VIDEO : Nightmare ordeal finally ends for US hostages

The 52 American hostages held at the US embassy in Tehran for more than 14 months have arrived in West Germany on their way home to the United States.

The former diplomats and embassy staff stepped from the plane onto the tarmac at Wiesbaden airport looking tired but elated after their 4,000-mile (6,437km) flight from Iran.

Some waved to the crowd of well-wishers who had gathered, others gave the V-for-victory sign.

Iran finally agreed to release the hostages after the US said it would release assets frozen in American and other banks, including the Bank of England, since the embassy was seized.

Presidential presence

Former president Jimmy Carter, appointed as President Ronald Reagan's special envoy, has flown in to welcome home the embassy staff he had hoped would be freed while he was still in charge at the White House.

Stories of the "abominable treatment" the men and women suffered at the hands of their Iranian captors are beginning to emerge.

Letters from home were burned in front of the hostages, there were regular beatings and some talked of games of Russian roulette.

The Americans were flown via Algiers to Wiesbaden, where they will now be cared for at a military hospital while their conditions are assessed.

The US government has tried to dissuade families from flying out to Germany for reunions with their loved ones until they have been confirmed fit.

Reporters were able to shout a few questions to hostages who appeared briefly on the hospital balcony. One man said they had had no idea they were about to be released.

Captive in US embassy

The hostage ordeal began in November 1979 when a group of radical Iranian students stormed the American embassy in Tehran. Everyone inside was taken captive.

The students were angered by American support for the Shah, who fled into exile in January 1979 and arrived in the United States in October for cancer treatment. They demanded the Shah's return to stand trial for alleged crimes in office.

They had the backing of the Iranian government, led by Ayatollah Khomeini. But their demands for the Shah's extradition were foiled when he fled to Cairo.

The students still refused to release their hostages, however, until President Carter was defeated in the US elections. This paved the way for fresh negotiations with the Algerians acting as intermediaries.

In Context
President Carter ordered sanctions and the freezing of Iranian assets in the US in an attempt to force Tehran to release the hostages.

The Iranian Government did not give in so he ordered a rescue attempt.

But the effort, in April 1980, had to be aborted after a sandstorm damaged some of the helicopters and a troop carrier to be used in the evacuation.

Eight American servicemen lost their lives. In the end, the Iranian captors were forced to give way when the Shah died in exile in Egypt - and Iraq invaded Iran.

With Ronald Reagan now in charge at the White House, the US agreed to unfreeze Iranian assets in return for the release of the hostages.

The release of the prisoners was delayed until the day of Ronald Reagan's inauguration as president - in a final snub to President Carter.

Three of the four British hostages were released a month later following the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury's special envoy, Terry Waite.

The fourth, Andrew Pyke, was released in February 1982 after being held in an Iranian jail without trial for 17 months.


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