All in a day's Raid for boys in black

Click to follow
PARIS (AP) - The pay isn't anything special and they often have to hide behind a black mask. But the anonymous few who qualify for the elite Raid unit of the French police earn the chance to become heroes, as they did yesterday with a lightning raid which freed six small girls and killed their dynamite-laden captor.

Only 80 officers serve in Raid - Research, Assistance, Intervention, Dissuasion - with 12 newcomers added annually, drawn from about 600 applicants. Only male officers aged between 25 and 35, with at least five years of police experience, are eligible. The squad members dress in black and often wear black masks to hide their identity. Their symbol is a black panther.

Formed in 1985, Raid specialises in hostage crises: 60 members are trained to carry out commando raids to end sieges. The other 20 have diverse specialities, ranging from weaponry to use of police dogs. The squad's other duties include protecting visiting dignitaries. Raid helped to plan security for last year's Albertville Winter Olympics.

Police said yesterday that Raid members had been prepared to risk their lives to save the six girls and their teacher. At one stage several squad members had volunteered to form a 'human shield' to protect the children during a rescue attempt.

Many Raid members are former athletes. They must pass a physical examination every six months and they compete at boxing, wrestling and other sports six hours a day during training sessions at their base outside Paris.

The successful recruits are allowed to choose their own handguns, and those who join the sharpshooting unit are equipped with rifles specially designed for Raid.

Since 1985, two Raid members have been killed in action and seven wounded. But there is no special high-risk pay. The average salary is in line with what other police officers earn: about 8,000 francs ( pounds 1,000) a month.

The unit's first big success was in December 1985, when it captured four leaders of the Action Directe terrorist group, which was holding hostages at a courthouse in Nantes.