This day in history, November 4, 1979, the Iran Hostage Crisis began when student followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 90 hostages.
As a result of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy, 52 American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days.
As supporters of the Iranian Revolution, the students were angered that the deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was allowed to enter the U.S. for medical treatment and if a rescue attempt to save the hostages, they would murder them. Iran demanded that he be returned to stand trial for crimes he was accused of committing during his reign, such as committing crimes on Iranian citizens with the help of his secret police, the SAVAK.
Days afterwards, Iran’s provincial leader resigned, and the Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s fundamentalist revolutionaries, took full control of the country—and the fate of the hostages.
Two weeks after the storming of the embassy, the Ayatollah began to release all non-U.S. captives, and all female and minority Americans, citing these groups as among the people oppressed by the United States government. The remaining 52 captives were left at the mercy of the Ayatollah for the next 14 months.
President Jimmy Carter was unable to diplomatically resolve the crisis, and on April 24, 1980, he ordered a rescue mission that failed disastrously. Eight U.S. military personnel were killed and no hostages were rescued.
Three months later, the former shah died of cancer after being granted asylum in Egypt. In November 1980, Carter lost the presidential election to Republican Ronald Reagan. Shortly afterwards, with the assistance of Algerian intermediaries, successful negotiations finally began between the United States and Iran.
On January 20, 1981, the exact day that Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, the United States freed almost $3 billion in frozen Iranian assets and promised $5 billion more in financial aid. Just a few minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in, the hostages flew out of Iran on an Algerian airliner, ending their 444-day ordeal.