Who are GIGN? Elite police force formed after 1972 Olympics attack on Israelis

It was responsible for storming the hijacked Air France flight  in 1994

Paul Peachey
Friday 09 January 2015 19:57 GMT
Members of the GIGN (National Gendarmerie Intervention Group) sit in a helicopter flying over Dammartin-en-Goele
Members of the GIGN (National Gendarmerie Intervention Group) sit in a helicopter flying over Dammartin-en-Goele (AFP)

The GIGN – Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale – was created in the aftermath of the deadly failure to counter the hostage taking of Israeli Olympians at the 1972 Games in Munich.

A series of errors during the failed attempts to release the 11 Israelis highlighted the lack of specialist counter-terrorism forces across Europe to deal with well-organised and well-armed groups.

Along with the German GSG-9, the GIGN was created to deal with this and has specialised in incidents on planes and ships. It was responsible for the storming of the Air France flight hijacked by four Algerian terrorists in 1994. The terrorists killed three passengers before the plane was flown to Marseilles where the GIGN stormed it and killed the four hijackers from the Algerian Armed Islamic Group. Plot leaders said later that the plan was to detonate the aircraft over the Eiffel Tower. The first man through the door shot three hijackers but spent months in hospital after being badly injured, losing the use of one arm. He returned to the GIGN as a shooting instructor. A feature film in 2011 told his story.

The group was reorganised in 2007 to provide a 200-strong highly-trained team to respond to hostage situations. Since it started operations, it has freed 600 hostages, according its website.

Part of the gendarmerie, it is involved in 200 operations a year, targeting drug dealers and serious organised crime in armed operations. It is also involved in the protection of VIPs overseas, and nuclear and chemical weapons threats. Under French law, the faces of its members cannot be shown in the media.

It recruits from within the ranks of police for a three-month selection process followed by more than a year of training. Its training programme is notoriously brutal: a French documentary team that followed a group of potential new recruits at its main centre in Satory, south of Versailles, saw 120 volunteers whittled down to 18 in two weeks. The instructors called it the easy part of the programme. It was followed by “punitive” boxing that saw recruits battered and knocked down by trained fighters – before being encouraged to get up and fight again.

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