On Jan. 16, 1979, the Shah of Iran fled his country in the face of an army mutiny and violent demonstrations against his rule. Just fourteen days later, Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the Islamic revolution, returned after 15 years of exile and took control of Iran.
The Shah had ruled Iran since 1941. In 1953, when the Shah was pushed out of power (for two days) after attempting to dismiss Mohammad Mosaddeq, the nation’s popular premier, American and British intelligence agents orchestrated a coup d’etat against Mosaddeq and retunred the Shah as the sole leader of Iran.
In October 1979, the Shah was permitted to enter the United States for medical treatment and Islamic militants responded by storming the U.S. embassy in Tehran and taking 52 Americans hostage. The militants, with support from Khomeini, demanded the U.S. return the Shah to face charges. The U.S. refused to negotiate and hostages were held for 444 days.