The Grupo Especial de Intervención (GEI) (in Catalan: Grup Especial d’Intervenció) is a special operations unit of the Catalan police Mozos de Escuadra (Mossos d’Esquadra) in Catalonia, Spain. GEI specialises in operations with a high risk of armed violence, such as assault and entry into homes/buildings, hostage rescue, counterterrorism, protection of critical infrastructure, and escorting high-ranking personalities.
GEI was created in 1984 with the collaboration of the Spezialeinsatzkommandos (SEK) of West Germany as a security reinforcement for the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992. In 1990 it trained with the Spain’s Special Operations Group (GEO) of the National Police Corps, which advised it on various subjects.
GEI is the equivalent of a police SWAT unit. This unit is similar to the special units of the Spanish police at the national level such as the UEI (Civil Guard) or GEO (National Police). This article explores the GEI and analyses its history, mission, training, weaponry, and most important operations.
2.0 History of the UEI
The GEI was created in 1984 to handle any emergencies that might arise during the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Another reason for its creation was the transfer of responsibilities to the Generalitat of Catalonia (Catalan Government) of prisons in the region in 1990. This made it necessary to have a specialised unit to deal with riots as well as hostage-taking.
To train the police officers they modelled their unit after the German intervention unit of the state of Baden-Württemberg, which had a similar set of responsibilities. Spanish authorities previously used German police units as an example. For instance, the GEO was trained by GSG9, Germany’s federal intervention unit. In 1990, a group of seven police officers was sent to Baden-Württemberg, where they went through a five-week training course. In 1991, a second group of six was sent there again. Both groups also took a course taught by the GEO for another five weeks.
The symbol of the unit is a Peregrine Falcon, considered one of the best hunters in the world. The GEI motto is “Vis et Honor” (Strength and Honor), in honour of the Roman soldiers’ salute.
2.2 From Yesterday to Today
In 1994 the GEI started their training course for police officers who had to integrate into the unit. Until November 2009, the GEI promoted up to seven officers to replace losses or grow the unit. From 1990 to 2011, no GEI members died while executing an operation. The GEI conducts about 100 operations a year, except in 2017 when there were about 150 due to the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils (Tarragona) (source).
3.0 The Mission
According to Article 179 of Decree 243/2007, it is the responsibility of the Special Intervention Group Area to support other police units in high-risk and complex operations (source). In general, the types of operations are the protection of citizens and VIPs as well as rescue and counter-terrorism missions.
More specifically, the GEI is activated in the following cases:
- Arrest of armed and dangerous criminals.
- Protection of acts with potential risks.
- Protection of VIPs.
- Prison transfers with risk of escape.
- Hostage rescue.
- Entering homes with dangerous people inside.
- Entering homes with complex security measures.
- Sniper and marksman services.
4.0 The Organisation
The GEI is the Special Operations division of the autonomous police of Catalonia (Mossos). Specifically, the GEI is under the authority of the General Intervention Commissariat, which is part of the Superior Commissariat for Citizen Security (source).
The GEI is headquartered at the Egara Central Complex in Sabadell, Barcelona. The structure of the unit is hierarchical. It consists of:
- Head of the GEI.
- Operational manager.
- Planning and coordination.
- Support Unit.
- Operational unit.
The members of the Support Unit come from the Operational Unit when they reach 40 years of age. These are veterans who offer their experience to the rest of the group. This strategy allows the Operational Unit to focus mainly on training. This Support Unit includes negotiators and precision shooters.
The unit has about 40 members. However, if the unit needs an increase in staff due to an emergency, the roster can never exceed 60 positions.
5.0 Training of the GEI
The learning period is three years and applicants cannot be older than 27. In addition, candidates must be in excellent physical and mental condition to be able to pass the entry requirements and complete training.
To apply for the group, candidates must first pass the Mossos d’Esquadra competitive exams, This part consists of three phases (source):
- First, the competition where the candidate must pass the corresponding tests and sub-tests.
- Second, the training phase consists of a selective course at the Institut de Seguretat Pública de Catalunya (ISPC).
- Finally, the traineeship phase, which lasts 12 months.
To access the GEI, the candidates must pass three phases:
- Physical, psycho-technical and medical tests, personal interviews and psychosomatic adaptation. This phase lasts five months.
- A six-month course at the ISPC.
- A further 12-month period of work experience and integration into the unit.
Only 3% of applicants on average manage to pass all three phases. The commitment is at least four years.
The GEI Support Unit plans and supervises the Operational Team training. It is divided into three blocks: physical, technical and tactical. They consist of subjects such as:
- Physical preparation.
- Intervention techniques.
- Hand-to-hand combat with and without weapons.
- Weapons including precision rifles.
- Climbing, abseiling and orienteering.
- Helicopter descent.
- Offensive and evasive driving.
- Protection of persons.
- Tracking and self-protection.
- Emergency medical assistance.
They train with 12 different types of weapons ranging from handguns to rifles. Like many SWAT-style units, GEI officers train every day for high-risk interventions and spend the majority of their time preparing (source).
According to the unit itself, its operatives are trained to have a high tolerance for stress, high doses of self-control and speed, the ability to integrate into a team, and the capacity for dedication, sacrifice, and devotion to a cause.
The GEI also trains and collaborates with “sister” police units both inside and outside the national territory to share knowledge and best practices.
6.0 Equipment of the GEI
The GEI has a wide variety of weapons and uniforms suited to the type of mission. Each officer carries two pistols and a submachine gun (source).
- P30 9×19mm Parabellum.
- HK USP 9×19mm Parabellum.
- Walther P99 9×19mm Parabellum.
- Glock 17 9×19mm Parabellum.
- MP5/PT 9×19mm Parabellum.
- HK MP7 4.6×30mm.
- Remington 870 – 12 Gauge.
- Franchi – 12 Gauge
- HK G36/KV 5.56×45mm NATO.
- HK 417 5.56×45mm NATO.
- FN SCAR 5.56×45mm NATO.
- Heckler & Koch PSG1 7.62×51mm NATO.
- SAKO TRG 22 7.62×51mm NATO.
- AMP DSR 1 .338 Lapua Magnum.
- AW-AWP 7.62mm.
- Black Hornet.
6.2 Individual Equipment
In terms of individual equipment, GEI agents have:
- Blue or black coveralls and “Oakley Assault 6″ mid-calf tactical boots.
- BSST “UX3” bullet-proof waistcoats with protection level IA, with mounted Blackhawk “Omega CrossDraw/Eod” and “Verseidag” equipment-carrying waistcoats.
- Black MSA “TC Special Forces” V2 aramid helmet with shatterproof goggles and the possibility of attaching ballistic shields, as well as anti-cut gloves. They also have Ulbrichts Zenturio C1300H helmets, with ballistic protection and 360° protection.
- ASP extendable police defence and Rheinmetall Mk-13 mod 02 9-shot stun grenades.
The GEI’s vehicles are camouflaged, discreet, high-powered cars and vans. They also have an armoured 4×4 vehicle (NIJ level IV). They also use helicopters of the Generalitat de Catalunya when required.
7.0 Notable Operations
Some of the operations in which the GEI has been involved are:
- 16 November 2001: Arrest in the Collserola mountain range of the fugitives Manuel Brito and Javier Picatoste, who escaped prison and were responsible for the death of a man, the rape of a young woman and the injury of two police officers (source) (source).
- 22 June 2009: Arrest of a dangerous gang of bank robbers. They were arrested when they were about to commit another robbery in Sabadell (source).
- 5 October 2012: Rescue of a kidnapped Valencian boy in Barcelona (source).
- October 2012: Several arrests in Operation Taxila. This was a mafia that illegally brought 1,000 Pakistani migrants to Catalonia every year (source).
- 17 August 2017: The GEI were deployed after a terrorist attack in Barcelona city centre, known as the 2017 Barcelona attacks (source).
- 17 August 2017: The GEI was also deployed after the terrorist attacks on the city of Cambrils, also part of the 2017 Barcelona attacks (source).
- 14 December 2021. The GEI neutralised a gunman in Tarragona (source).
- 20 January 2023: The GEI was deployed in a helicopter during the Sánchez-Macron summit in Barcelona (source).
The GEI is a highly trained, effective, and lethal elite police unit. Its training and arsenal make it a cutting-edge unit in Spanish law enforcement, close to the special operations units of the Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional. Like its national counterparts, the GEI is equipped to carry out the most difficult operations. Not surprisingly, Spain’s regional and national leaders count on the unit for the most difficult missions and consider them suitable for VIP protection and counter-terrorism operations. Given the importance the Catalan and Spanish governments attach to them, the GEI will remain an essential unit in the fight against crime and terrorism for the foreseeable future.