Cinema Rex Fire

On August 20, 1978, in the Cinema Rex fire, the Cinema Rex in Abadan, Iran, was set ablaze, killing over 400 individuals.

The ruling shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, said that Islamic militants set the fire, while many blamed the country's intelligence service, SAVAK for setting the fire.The pro-reform Sobhe Emrooz newspaper in 2001 disclosed that cinema Rex was set ablaze by radical Islamists. The newspaper was shut down later.

There is speculation over the actual number of casualties incurred during the fire. Various sources draw their own conclusions concerning the death toll. Some of the numbers considered include: 400, 410, 430, and (over) 800. The National Fire Protection Association, a reputable source on fire-related issues lists the number of dead at 422.

A 1980 Amnesty-International report states that there were 438 victims, including individuals who were tried and wrongfully executed after the fire itself.

According to Daniel L. Bynam in Washington Post in 2007, the fire was "the second-deadliest terrorist attack in modern history," after only the September 11th, 2001 attacks; it has since been surpassed by the 2007 Kahtaniya bombings‎ in Iraq, which killed 796.

Abadan, meanwhile, was anything but subdued. The Rex tragedy unleashed a flood of bitterness, aimed equally at the arsonists who ignited the theater and the incompetent local authorities whose bungling had surely contributed to the death toll. Witnesses reported that nearly half an hour elapsed before the first fire fighters arrived at the burning theater. Once they got there, they discovered that none of the hydrants were working. The mobile water tanks they brought to the scene ran dry before the fire could be brought under control. The screams of the dying carried into the streets as would-be rescuers stood by helplessly. One witness charged later that the police—whose station is located only a block from the Rex—made no attempt to free those trapped in the inferno.

We pass the site of the infamous Cinema Rex, historically the starting point of the Revolution: on 20 August 1978, the Cinema Rex was locked from the inside and set on fire, resulting in 430 deaths. It was widely believed that the Shah was responsible: there were several dissidents inside. This sparked mass demonstrations and the Shah was overthrown six months later.