Tunis, Tunisia 17th June 2000
At ten in the morning, they made their move. Three Libyan dissidents pulled Israeli made Uzi sub-machine guns from briefcases and seized control of the Libyan Embassy in Tunis, taking 24 people, mostly embassy staff, hostage. Within minutes, they were joined by seven more.
Members of a minority Libyan ethnic group, they issued a series of demands including the release of compatriots imprisoned in Libya and threatened to begin killing hostages if their demands were not met. The first deadline passed without incident. After the second deadline had passed, an embassy attaché was shot and his body thrown from a window onto the embassy steps.
The police, untrained for such incidents, had no answer other than to contain a growing crowd behind hastily erected barriers. The commanding general of the Tunisian armed forces wanted to launch an assault on the building. The President might have assented had not his justice minister intervened.
“Ali. Do you not recall the terrorist seizure of the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980? And more importantly the way the British handled it?”
The President gave it thought, and then he said. “Yes. I remember it. They used military force. Soldiers stormed the embassy.”
“Not quite. They used Special Forces. Elite soldiers highly trained to handle such incidents. They are called the Special Air Service. The SAS.”
“Yes, Jorge, you are correct. The SAS; I recall it now. But why do you speak of this?”
“To allow the general to attack the embassy would be a mistake I fear. I see a catastrophe with many casualties. We have no Special Forces capable of solving this. I think you should request help from Britain.”
“They will refuse I feel”
“Perhaps. But you have nothing to lose by asking.”
The president thought for several minutes,
then nodded. “I’ll take your advice, Jorge. I will call the British Ambassador.
I’ll do it now.”