Who Were The Hostage Takers In The US Embassy In Tehran?

What was the identity of the group who was known in the political history of Iran as “the students following the line of Imam”?  They were responsible for takeover of the former US Embassy in Tehran in 4th of November 1979 and keeping the embassy personnel as hostage for 444 days.

Several sites close to the extremists in Iran, in an article published on the occasion of the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran on November 4th, have given interesting information about the so-called students following the line of Imam. The following is the translation of almost entire text of the article. The brackets are added by me.

Looking forward to see these criminals are put to trial in Iran, dead or alive.


Those who chose to remain unknown

“A few hours after complete takeover of the US Embassy [in Tehran], in the evening of 13th of Aban [4th of Nov. 1979], a few young students, were sitting in front of a group of the journalists.  They demonstrated some of the American weapons to the journalists and read the declarations numbers one and two of the students that had takeover the embassy.  When the students were confronted with the question that who were they? They said: “students following the line of Imam.”  This was how they were referred to in all news circles, speeches and televised reports about their action.  No one referred to any particular name among the students, and they were merely called “one of the students following the line of Imam”.

Masoumeh Ebtekar, the interpreter and English speaking spokesperson of the students, when she addressed the Western media, she introduced herself as “Mary” and later she became known as Sister Mary.

The Students spent the first six months of the takeover of the US Embassy inside the embassy compound and they called the lace” Den of Spies”.

Everybody had a responsibility in the embassy.  Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, the main planner of the US Embassy takeover, Reza Saifollahi,  Mohsen Mirdamadi, Habibollah Bitaraf and Rahim Bateni were members of the Central Council of the Students.  At the side of the central council, there was a “Council of Enforcers” (Shoraie Bazoo).  It is said that Ali Asghar Zahmatkesh, Abbas Abdi, Sayyed Mohammad Hashemi Esfahani, Akbar Rafan, Mohammad Reza Khatami, Mohsen Aminzadeh, Rahman Dadman, Shamsoddin Vahabi, Vafa Tabesh, Mohammad Naeimipour, Hussein Shiekholislam, and Forouz Rajaiefar, were the members of the second council.

Abbas Abdi left the “Den” after a while due to personal problems and went to Shiraz.  Ali Zahmatkesh, who was in charge of security of the hostages, was the only person that the US courts accepted to pursue a case against him due to destruction of the documents.

Sayyed Mohammad Hashemi Esfahani, who was a student in Amir Kabir University, later married Masoumeh Ebtekar but despite his wife, he took a distance from the political activities and turned into “one of the oil managers”.  Akbar Rafan was in charge of supplies in the Den.

Mohammad Reza Khatami [brother of the reformist president Khatami], Mohsen Aminzadeh, Naiemipour and Masoumeh Ebtekar, formed the Public Relations Unit and Engineer Ahmad Houseini became their supervisor.  Hussein Kamali was in charge of propagation.  Vafa Tabesh, Hussein Shiekholislam and Forouz Rejaiefar were reviewing the embassy documents.  Hussein Shiekholislam and Forouz Rejaiefar, due to knowing Arabic and English, were sometimes acting as the translator too.

After the embarrassing defeat of the US in the Tabas operations [US rescue operations], the students who had resisted for six months the pressures to hand over the hostages to the Interim Government and the Council of Revolution, decided, with the cooperation of the IRGC intelligence, and headed by Mohsen Rezaie, to divide the hostages to several groups and sent them to various cities.

Mashaad, Rasht, Sarri, Esfahan, Shiraz and few others were pinpointed and the student travelled along with the hostages under cover to the destinations.  In the middle of the summer of 1359 [July 1980], the unsuccessful escape of a hostage and the escalation of the hardships for keeping the hostages, led to an agreement between the Central Council of the Students and the IRGC to give the hostages to the administration of Shaheed Rajaie.

Therefore, the hostages were taken to the Evin Prison and Towheed Prison [current the Museum of Past lessons], and the students who were actually omitted from the Algiers Talks, lost their last reason for being together.  They held a meeting in the Den and conferred about the future of the movement.  Some of them believed that they should establish a political party and others called for termination of the organized efforts and eventually when the voting took place the second group won and the students following the line of Imam declared the end of their organized action.

However, the Den of Spies was at the disposal of the students for several years and they continued to review the documents.  Later, the administration of Mousavi in 1364 [1985] decided to hand over the site to the IRGC.  The existing materials were published and the unpublished materials were handed over to the newly established Ministry of Intelligence.

When the war [Iran-Iraq war 1980-88] started most of the students had entered the IRGC.  Akbar Rafan, later became the first commander of the IRGC Air Force.  Hussein Dehghan went to Lebanon and later he became the head of the Islamic Revolution’s Martyrs Foundation. Alireza Afshar, became the IRGC Chief of Staff, commander of Baseej and Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces in Cultural affairs.  Reza Saeifollahi got the post of supervising the IRGC Intelligence and the first commander of the Disciplinary Forces.  Ahmad Reza Kazemi, the cousin of Martyr Ahmad Kazemi, also Ali Zahmatkesh, Mohammad Reza Khatami and Mohammad Naeimipour were in IRGC in 1360s [1980s].

While the US hostages were still in Iran, the news of martyrdom of a group of these students was released.  Hussien Alamolhoda, although had no direct role in the takeover of the embassy, he had close cooperation with those who reviewed the documents.  When Ahmad Madani became a candidate for presidency, Alamolhoda, under the direct order of Ayatollah Khamenei [the current Supreme Leader], went to the Den of Spies and with cooperation of the Documents Unit and Propagation Unit, found and widely published the documents indicating Madani’s cooperation with the Americans.

Alamolhoda, along with Mohammad Fazel and Ali Hatami was martyred.  Ali Hatami was among the first persons who climbed the wall of the US Embassy and his picture while doing that was famous.  In the same war operations, Hussein Sharif was injured and later killed in Khaibar Operations in 1363 [1984].

Mohsen Vezvaie, was a student of the Sharif University and in the Den, he was responsible for the intelligence operations.  He joined the IRGC a few months before the start of war and later he went to war front and became the commander of a special unit that was engaged in guerrilla operations.  In the operations that led to liberalization of Bazi Deraz Heights, he was the commander and got injured.  Since Azar 1360 [November 1981]  he was the commander of Habib-Ibn -Mazaher Battalion which was part of the newly established Mohammad Rasoullah Division. He was in the first line in the Fath-ol-Mobin Operations.  When the Brigade 10 of Sayyed-ol -Shohada was formed, he became the commander of this unit and in 1361 [1982] entered the Baitol-moghadas operations (conquering Khorramshahr), and a few miles short Khoramshahr he was killed.

Abbas Varavini, one of the students following the line of Imam, was in charge of educations in the embassy.  He, like a number of the students, in 1358 [1979-1980] married the girls among the students.  Khomeini himself performed their marriage ceremony.  In 1361 [1982] he became the chief of staff of Division 27 Mohammad Rasoullah.  Later he leaded the Sepah 11 Ghadar, and the Najaf Ashraf Headquarters, In 28 Aban 1362 [1983] he was killed in Kani Manga Heights in Valfajer-7 Operations.

Ali Sabouri, Alireza Hadipour, Hussein Shorideh, Gholam-Hussein Bastami (commander of the IRGC of Susangred in the beginning of the war), Abdul-rahman Yaa Ali Madad, Hussein Bahadouri, Fazollah Abedini, Hamid Safie, and Jalal Sharifi were also killed in war.

Key Posts

After the issue of the Den was over, while the universities were closed due to the Cultural Revolution, many students joined the government organizations or revolutionary institutions.  Hussein Shiekh-ol-Eslam [the hostages called him “gaptooth” because of missing a tooth in the front row of his teeth] , who had close relations with the left leaning members of the Student’s Central Council, such as Abbas Abdi and Mirdamadi, became the political deputy of the foreign minister. He had that post for 16 years and he had become an expert in the regional issues, especially on Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.  He was also three years Iranian ambassador in Syria and later in the Seventh Majles he was a representative and again returned to the MFA as the first deputy in political affairs [at the time of Ahmadinejad.  In the second term of Ahmadinejad he was set aside quietly and became the consultant to the Speaker of the Majles, Ali Larijani].

Mohsen Amin Zadeh became the deputy MFA in Asian Affairs at the administration of Khatami.   Mohajer and Mohammad Mehdi Rahmati, two of the students, had similar experiences.  Mohammad Mehdi Rahmati, later became the deputy of planning and strategic supervision in the office of the president.

Ebrahim Asgharzadeh joined the Majles but his radical moves led to his arrest at the final days of his presence in Majles.  He was one of the frequent speakers in the gathering of the Office for Fostering Unity.

Tahereh Rezazadeh, one of the students, was married to Ebrahim Agharzadeh.  She went to the Sixth Majles.  Shams-oddin Vahabi, Mohammad Naimipour, Mohammad Reza Khatami were also in the Sixth Majles.

The first and only minister out of the students was Habib-ollah Bitaraf. He was a student from Yazd and he had attended the Tehran University.  He was 8 years Minister of Electricity.  During his tenure, Ali Zahamykesh and Vafa Tabesh , who were among senior students, got important posts in the construction of the Karkheh 1 and 2 Dams in Khuzestan province.

Hessien Sharifzadeghan was also almost one year minister of Welfare at the tenure of Khatami.  Hussein Dehghan and Masoumeh  Ebtekar became the deputy president.  In the Ministry of Interior, Reza Saifollahi became the Security Deputy Minister when Abdollah Nouri was there.  He supervised the merger of Revolutionary Committees and Jandarmeri (border police) and Police and later be became the first commander of the disciplinary forces. He is now deputy of the State Expediency Discernment Council.   Mohammad Reza Behzadiannejad was the economic deputy of the Nouri in his second term as the Minister of Interior. However, due to his extremist policies, Nouri set him aside only after one year. He later became the Chairman of Tehran Chamber Of Commerce during the last years of Khatami, as president.   He had deep differences with Ali Naghi Khamoushi and eventually Mohammad Nahavandian took his place in Aban 1384 [2005] .  Ali Reza Afshar had the economic and political posts as the deputy of the Minister of Interior during the tenure of Pour-Mohammadi and Mahsouli.

Ezzatollah Zarghami, who had joined the IRGC, later attended the cultural affairs.  He was the deputy Minister of the Culture and Islamic Guidance and at the time of Ali Larijani’s tenure [as the head of the State Radio and TV Organization of Iran], he was deputy in parliamentary affairs. In 1383 [2005]  he became the Head of the State Radio and TV Organization.  He was for many years the main speaker in the ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the takeover of the Den of Spies.

Mohammad Ali Jafari or Aziz Jafari, who was a student born in Yazd and studying architecture in Tehran University, joined the IRGC and became the commander of Ashora Brigade, Gods Headquarters, and Najaf Headquarters in the war time and later he was the commander of the IRGC ground forces for 13 years and later he was 5 years in charge of Tehran’s Sarollah Headquarters.

Mehdi Rajab-Baighi was one of the spokespersons of the students and he addressed the Friday Prayers.  He was assassinated by the Monafeghin (Mojahedin Khalgh Organization, or MKO) in Mehr 1360 [1981] while walking in street in Tehran.


The story of disappointment of some students started right from the first day of taking over the US Embassy in Tehran.  Hatam Ghaderi and Javad Mozaffar, from the Melli University, left the Den because Imam [Khomeini] supported the takeover of the embassy.  Three days later, a few others issued a declaration saying that: although takeover of the US Embassy was an anti-imperialistic move, but this was not the correct way of combating imperialism, and they left the group.

Some of the students were expelled.  Mojtaba Badiei, the former member of the Central Council of Mosharekat Party has said: “there were many extremist behaviors in the Den.  Mr. Dadman and the persons following his line were very sensitive about any discussion about the Government of the Supreme Fagih [Velayate Faghih].  We did not see it as such.  One day, I was walking in the embassy, with Dr. Samii and Dr. Davoodi and another friend of us, when an emergency medical car came backward and when it reached us, several persons who had masks and were armed, threw us inside the car and started moving while the siren was on and they left the embassy compound.  When they reached the 7th of Tir Square [not far from the former US Embassy], they threw us out and vanished.   The Den was purged from the people who opposed the Velaye Faghih.  Also, one cold night in the winter, they expelled one boy and one girl for the compound, due to connections to the MKO.”

Taghi Mohammadi was the student who brought Barry Rosen, the Press Secretary of the US Embassy who spoke Farsi to the gathering of the journalists.  He was close to Behzad Nabavi and Khorow Tehrani.  Later he went to the Intelligence of the PM’s Office.  He was sent to Afghanistan after the big explosion in the PM’s office.  But Assadollah Lajevardi [head of Evin prison] made him return and arrested him.  Taghi who was said to be ready for confession [about the explosion], was found dead and it looked as if he had committed suicide, but the security experts of the office of the revolutionary prosecutor general believed he had been killed.

Barry Rosen met one of the students, Abbas Abdi, in Paris, many years later and he [Abdi] implicitly rejected this action.  But he faced protests from some others, like Forouz Rajaiefar, who claimed that Abdi was never a member of the students. Mohammad Hashempour Yazdanparast, a professor in Shiraz University, who in charge of publications in the Den, has said that the meeting of Abdi with the former US hostage was embarrassing.  Forouz Rajaiefar was the head of Center for Marking Martyrs’ of the Global Islamic Movement.

The worst fate among the students goes to Abbas Zarribaf.  He had joined the MEK in 1358 [1979].  He became a member of the IRGC intelligence and tried to disclose the activities of the IRGC.  He was very close to the intelligence elements of the Prime Minister’s office, such as Taghi Mohammadi and Khosrow Tehrani.  He went into hiding in 1360 [1981] and one year later left Iran.  He was killed in Merssad Operations [the attack of MKO from Iraqi territory to Iran at the end of Iran-Iraq war] at its fourth day.

Although many of the students are not known, a number of them are in the universities, such as: Dr. Firoozabadi, the spouse of Martyre Shorideh who is a professor of mechanics in the Sharif University.  Also, Dr. Mohammad Hussien Sadeghi is a member of the academic board of Tarbiyate Modarress University and Dr. Abdul-Hussien Rooholamin, is the professor of pharmacology in the Tehran University and Mohammad Hashem Yazadanparat is the professor of economics in the Shiraz University.

Also, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president of Iran in 2005.  Hussein Dehghan, another student from the group that to over the US Embassy became later deputy of the defense minister in couple of administrations.  He also reached the chairmanship of the Bonyad-e Shahid (Martyrs Foundation) and later became advisor to the Majlis speaker. He was assigned as the minister of defense by Ruhani.

Another student, Rahman Dademan, reached the position of minister.  He first reached the post of heading the Iran Fisheries Company.  He was assigned as minister of roads and transportation in 1999 but six month after that he was killed in a plane crash. Kamal Tabrizi, another student of the same group, entered the art activities and the film “Marmulak” (the Lizard) was one of his works.  Habibollah Bitaraf became a minister in the first and second administrations of Khatami.

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