SAS joins rescue force in Lima

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An SAS team joined forces with counter-terrorist groups from around the world working to release the hostages being held in the Japanese embassy in Lima, although the large number of prisoners would make a rescue attempt more difficult.

It would only be attempted if the well-organised kidnappers from Tupac Amaru started killing their hostages.

Peru has its own, highly efficient counter-terrorist group called Dincote - the Directorate of Intelligence for Counter-Terrorism. Led by General Antonio Ketin Vidal, it captured the leader of the Shining Path, Abimael Guzman and the leader of Tupac Amaru, Victor Campos, in 1992. Sources yesterday said they believed the current head of Dincote might be one of the hostages.

European and United States agencies have been widely involved in South America because of the war against drug barons. British experts helped to advise Colombian police in the rescue of a British hostage earlier this year.

Experts from Britain's Special Air Service and hostage negotiators from Scotland Yard are thought to be working with a German GSG-9 army unit in Lima. The SAS has experience in rescuing hostages in circumstances similar to those of the Lima embassy siege: the Iranian embassy siege in London in 1980, which first brought the black-clad, hooded soldiers to the world's attention. During the five-day operation, the SAS and Scotland Yard gained extensive experience in hostage negotiations.

The German GSG-9 unit's finest hour was the successful attack on a Lufthansa airliner seized at Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1977 by guerrillas from Germany and Palestine.

The previous year, Israeli commandos from Mossad had rescued a large number of fellow nationals taken hostage at Entebbe, in Uganda.

France also has an outstanding counter-terrorist unit, GIGN, a division of the Gendarmerie. It differs from the other principal anti-terrorist forces as it is used against armed criminals in France.

Italy also has a crack anti-terrorist squad, a division of the Carabinieri. It performed very competently, rescuing Brigadier-General Dozier of the US Army when he was captured by terrorists in the early Eighties. The Carabinieri come under the defence ministry, unlike the French Gendarmerie, but the Italian unit has not been prominent in international operations since then.

Experts yesterday said the large number of hostages made a rescue more difficult, but it would be no different in principle from other hostage rescue operations. The seizure of the Japanese embassy in Lima presents striking parallels with the capture of the Dominican embassy in Bogota, Colombia, in 1980 by M19, a Colombian left-wing movement.

In Lima, the terrorists who seized the embassy posed as waiters: in Bogota, they were playing football in a field opposite the embassy where a similar function was being held. The two teams, referee and linesmen, 25 in all, then donned tracksuits and sprinted across the road, seizing the embassy and 75 people, including 14 ambassadors.

They held their hostages for two months, demanding the release of 300 prisoners and $50m (pounds 30m). Businesses from the ambassadors' countries eventually raised $2.5m and the kidnappers flew to sanctuary in Cuba with a few of the hostages, who were then released. The kidnappers did not succeed in securing the release of any of the people they wanted freed, but got away with plenty of money. It was a satisfactory outcome for everyone, but was not secured by a military attack.