Iran condemns British decision to free Embassy gunman

LONDON (Reuters) - Iran condemned a decision by British authorities Saturday to release from prison the only surviving member of a group of gunmen who seized the Iranian embassy in London in 1980. Several newspapers reported Friday that Fowzi Nejad, 50, would be freed within days after serving 27 years in jail.

Six gunmen seized the Iranian Embassy in London in April 1980, demanding the release of political prisoners in Iran and taking 21 hostages, two of whom they killed.

The dramatic six-day siege ended when elite SAS troops stormed the building and rescued 19 hostages, killing five gunmen.

Nejad, the only surviving member of the group, was given a life sentence in 1981 but The Guardian newspaper quoted his lawyer as saying the Parole Board had concluded he was no longer a threat to society and had ruled he could be released.

The lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Iranian Embassy said in a statement that Iran “strongly condemns” the decision to release Nejad, a move it said would have “negative impacts on relations” between Iran and Britain.

Nejad’s release was a source of “deep worry and concern among Iranian and British citizens,” it said, calling on the British government to look again at the decision.

The statement also expressed “grave concern over the increase in security threats” against Iran’s London Embassy, which was the target of an arson incident last month.

The Times reported that Iran wants Nejad returned to Tehran to face trial in connection with the 1980 siege but that Britain had blocked his deportation because it had not received assurances that he might not face the death penalty in Iran.

A Home Office spokesman declined to comment on Nejad’s case.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “The Iranians have not yet formally requested his extradition.”

Britain and Iran are at loggerheads over Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes but which Britain fears is aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.

Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Richard Balmforth