Surviving gunman from embassy siege may go free

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The Independent Online

For six days in May 1980, millions of Britons were gripped by the fate of 26 hostages held by six gunmen at the Iranian embassy in Princes Gate, London.

The live BBC broadcast reached its grisly climax when the terrorists murdered one of their captives and threw his body out of the building. It was a savage act that prompted the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, to order the SAS to storm the embassy. In the ensuing gun battle only one of the gunmen survived.

Fowzi Badavi Nejad, 48, who escaped by passing himself off as one of the hostages, was sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy to murder at the Old Bailey in 1981.

This month he will appear before a prison parole board which is expected to recommend his release. It is a ruling that will present the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, with a serious political headache and one that his predecessor, David Blunkett, had done all that he could to delay.

The gunmen, including Nejad, were all Iranian members of the Democratic Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan, which was sponsored by Saddam Hussein and used in his campaign to destabilise his neighbour as precursor for the Iran-Iraq war.

Nejad's membership of a proscribed terror organisation and his indirect role in the killings of two hostages, both Iranian embassy staff, means he is certain to face the death penalty if he is deported.

His lawyers are expected to make an application for political asylum that the Home Office will find hard to resist. But their first task will be to persuade the parole board that he is a prisoner who is now suitable for release.

Nejad's lawyer, John Dickinson, of the law firm Irwin Mitchell, says that while his client has made real progress in prison the Government has shown no interest in helping him prepare for his release.

This was confirmed last year when the Court of Appeal backed the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, in his decision to reduce Nejad's tariff, the punitive part of his sentence, from 25 to 22 years. The judges said Mr Blunkett had shown no good reason to disregard the advice of Lord Woolf that 22 years was a fair tariff.

Part of Nejad's case for his release is that 25 years later he is a very different man to the young guerrilla who took part in the siege in 1980. His representatives will argue that he no longer poses any risk to society.

It is also thought that testimony gathered from some of the hostages shows that towards the end of the siege Nejad may have used his influence to prevent further killings. Certainly two of the gunmen, guarding the hostages, appeared to have already surrendered just before the SAS soldiers burst into the room.

Nejad's case has divided those who survived the terrible events of May 1980. Some, such as the former hostage Ahmad Dadgar, 62, who was shot by the gunmen in the closing stages of the siege, have signed a petition calling for Nejad's release because he has served his sentence. Others, such as PC Trevor Lock, who was awarded a George Cross for his bravery in capturing the leader of the gunmen as the SAS entered the building, wants "life to mean life" for Nejad.

Even if Nejad is freed later this month and goes on to win political asylum in Britain he faces an uncertain and difficult future. It will be bad enough that he has to begin his new life as a convicted terrorist in a foreign country but he also knows that the publicity surrounding his own release will further threaten the safety of the family he left behind in Khuzestan, northern Iran, 25 years ago.