This Day in History

On Dec. 17, 1996, a group of Peruvian leftist rebels commandeered the home of the Japanese Ambassador in Lima. The Tupac Amaru rebels disguised themselves as caterers and waiters to sneak into the home undetected during a special party to celebrate the birthday of the emperor of Japan. The caterers and waiters soon revealed themselves as armed terrorists and took all of the partygoers hostage -- 490 people in total.

After taking over the residence, police surrounded the property. The rebels said that they would release 170 guests, consisting of women and the elderly, but kill the other 320 guests if the government failed to comply with their demands.

Terrorists Demanded That 400 Prisoners Be Released

The terrorist rebels were members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a militant communist movement that began in 1984 in Peru. Several days after the home invasion, the rebels had freed all of the hostages except for 72. They threatened to murder the 72 hostages if 400 imprisoned MRTA members were not released.

The hostages included several very important people, like Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori's brother, Peru's foreign minister, multiple supreme court judges, numerous foreign ambassadors, and more. Even though his own brother was among the hostages, President Fujimori refused to give in to the demands. He ordered a rescue assault on the residence to be carried out by special forces on April 22, 1997.

Hostages Secretly Notified 10 Minutes Before the Rescue Assault

The special forces team secretly notified the hostages that the rescue mission would take place, only 10 minutes before the special forces moved in. The rescue began with the detonation of explosives in a tunnel that had been dug under the building. This surprised the 14 terrorists inside, and killed eight of them instantly. The special forces then came at the compound from multiple angles, overtaking and killing the six remaining terrorists. Included among the dead terrorists was Nestor Cerpa, the leader of the MRTA.

Miraculously, only one hostage died during the assault, Peruvian Supreme Court Justice Carlos Giusti. Some of the special forces soldiers were wounded during the operation as well, and two of them later died.