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Shootout at the Iraqi Embassy in Paris

Shoot out at the Iraqi Embassy in the streets of Paris, France. One dead, several wounded. I was very new on the job when I was dispatched by AP-Paris one morning to cover a siege at the Iraqi Embassy. Before long, it had become the top story in a city filled with photographers.

Iraqi Shootout



An plainclothes policeman shoots the guard of the Iraqi Embassy as other French police take cover after the guard opened fired on a handcuffed prisoner who had earlier taken hostages at the embassy before surrendering. (photo © Randy Taylor)

I had taken up position by the back entrance where I spent the day, waiting and watching. As the sun began to set and the city of light grew dark, I sensed that the place to be was out front. I circled around the building to find a mass of 80 to 100 photographers, cameramen and journalists crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, about four people deep, behind a police barricade. In the crowd were three other AP photographers.

I felt strongly that I needed to stay, yet there was no need for another AP photographer in the crowd. So, I dropped back several feet from the police line and climbed up on top of a structure that enabled me to shoot over the heads of the press corp and, fortunately, over the tops of the cars.

Within moments, several under-cover police officers escorted a terrorist in handcuffs to a waiting police vehicle. The assailants had surrendered, having made their point. What no one knew at the time, the Iraqi's had decided they could not allow the terrorists to live. It would set a bad example ... or some logic like that. This was long before the Iraqi's became the world's favorite bad guys.

As the terrorist was put into the car, the Ambassador's number two man gave a signal to two plain-clothed Iraqi embassy guards who drew their weapons and opened fire. In the first volley of bullets, they missed the handcuffed terrorist and shot a French police officer who was escorting him. Pandemonium pursued. People in street clothes everywhere drew their guns and began shooting and running, seemingly indiscriminantly.

In this frame above, the man in the center with gun in hand is being fatally wounded by the officer who is shooting from the doorway. Others scramble for cover, not yet realizing that another Iraqi guard is also shooting from across the street in a cross-fire. And, one "Joe Cool" is casually standing there with his police radio, as if he's watching a ballet.

At the time, the AP, as part of an economy program, had issued 20 exposure rolls instead of 36ers to everyone. I knew I had exposed about 8 frames when the gunfire began. And, I knew that changing film or cameras would cause me to miss the action. So, I carefully and with thoughtful purpose squeezed off the remaining frames. The exposure by now was about 1/30th of a second, using a 300mm f4.5. That was the next great piece of luck.

The press corp was crammed so tight behind the barricade that any movement by one caused the photographer next to him to move too. In the melee, half the press corps "hit the dirt", blurring the shots of all of their compatriots. Those few who had sharp pictures missed the action because the cars obscured their view.

Us four AP photographers gathered together our film. I was the only one who was shooting at 400 ASA. The others were angry at my lack of experience. They had all pushed their film. I later learned that my "special" processing instructions of normal ASA were ignored in the lab in the interest of speed. It was unfortunate because the key images that ran in virtually every newspaper in the world the next day were from my "bullet-proof" roll of film. The AP selected and ran every frame on the roll. It was probably the best sequence of photos in my life. And, it taught me the tremendous value of luck. The luck of being in the right place at the right time with a clear vision of what I thought was going to happen has benefited me on many occasions since. I received four pay raises the first year I was with the AP, thanks in part to lucky moments like this one.

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