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    GIGN: The Hostage Rescue Primacy of the Gendarmerie Intervention Group

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    1. Introduction

    Groupe d intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN) also known in English as Gendarmerie Intervention Group, is an elite tactical police unit set up in 1973 in response to the 1972 Munich massacre. Similarities exist between the GIGN and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team because of the similar roles they perform. (Source

    Their motto is “S’engager pour la vie” which means a commitment to life. The unit serves as France’s primary counterterrorism and hostage rescue unit, being internationally renowned for its skill. Regarding mission, the primary task of the GIGN is counterterrorism and, as a result, their operatives are at the forefront of any French Counterterrorism response. In addition, they also protect government officials and defend critical sites. This includes embassies in war-torn countries, showing they are not just a domestic force. (Source) Indeed, the training they receive is far beyond what is required of a simple police force, with parachute training being mandatory.

    GIGN Badge

    2. History of the GIGN

    They French government raised the GIGN in 1973 as part of a wave of counterterrorism units formed by Western nations. This wave was a direct response to the 1972 Munich Massacre. In this attack, Palestinian terrorists took members from the Israeli Olympic team hostage. In the ensuing firefight, German authorities killed all militants and hostages. This led to most Western nations realising they needed specialised units in order to prevent such a disaster from occurring again. (Source)

    Originally called the Regionale d’Equipe intervention, they inherited the GIGN title in 1977. A 2007 merger combined the GIGN with the Gendarmerie Parachute Squadron (EPIGN), thereby resulting in a reorganisation process. (Source) Furthermore, like other units of their calibre, they were practically unknown until a well-publicised operation in 1994, where the GIGN successfully stormed a plane being held hostage by an Algerian Islamic group. (Source)

    The GIGN has carried out over 1800 missions, freed over 600 hostages, arrested over 500 suspects, and has only ever lost two members in operations. This shows their effectiveness as a unit, although they have lost some members in training accidents. (Source)

    Furthermore, the GIGN is also currently providing security at the French embassy in Ukraine, demonstrating their ability to operate abroad. (Source)

    GIGN team kick in the front door to a kill house in training
    GIGN team kick in the front door to a kill house in training

    3. Organisation of the GIGN

    They currently split the GIGN into three main sections (although other support groups exist):

    • Fast Response (Original GIGN)
    • Reconnaissance (EPIGN)
    • VIP Protection (Fromer EPIGN)

    It is also part of the Groupe de Securite et d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GSIGN) (Source)

    The fast response or assault group comprises roughly 100 members divided into four platoons. Of the four platoons, two specialise in diving operations whereas the other two specialise in parachute operations. The intervention section is the only element of the GIGN, which remains male only. (Source)

    Moreover, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has designated the GIGN as a good example of aviation hostage rescue. (Source) The GIGN also currently has around 1000 members, with 400 being based in their Paris location and 600 split across regional offices. (Source)

    There are some organisational aspects of GIGN that set it apart. One example is the fact the Gendarmerie is part of the French Armed Forces, although in recent years the Ministry of the Interior utilises them as an attachment. The GIGN is also a key member of the counterterrorism ATLAS network, which comprises 27 European nations.

    3.1 Selection

    The selection for GIGN is notoriously tough and standards are: (Source)

    • Recruits must be serving members of the Gendarmerie with a minimum of four years of exemplary service
    • French Citizenship is required
    • Must be capable of airborne certification
    • Under the age of 34

     Training lasts for 14 months with recruits receiving instruction in long-range shooting, hand-to-hand combat and negotiation skills. (Source) There is a prohibition from GIGN operators from using facial photography, and certain aspects of their training are kept secret. (Source)

    4. Equipment

    The GIGN arsenal is similar to many other special forces units globally and has a reputation for its wide selection of high-quality weapons. Many, with custom made to order parts with a particular focus on French firearms where possible. (Source) Another point of note is the continued widespread use of the French MR73 revolver which is one of the only French firearms still in use today. It is a status symbol for GIGN members as they give every new member one. Moreover, it represents the GIGN’s focus on human life and precision. (Source)

    GIGN officer training with a UAV

    4.1 Small Arms of the GIGN

    Weapons include but are not limited to the following: (Source)

    Sidearms:

    • Manurhin MR73 Revolver (not operationally used anymore but many GIGN operators still use theirs)
    • Glock 17 and 19
    • Sig Sauer P228
    • Smith & Wesson 686 GFS
    • FN Five-Seven
    • GIAT PAMAS G1S
    • Sig-Sauer PRO SP 2022

    Submachine Guns:

    • Heckler & Koch MP5
    • Heckler & Koch MP7
    • FN P90 Tactical

    Shotguns:

    • Remington Model 870
    • Franchi SPAS-12
    • Benelli M4

    Assault Rifles:

    • HK416
    • HK417
    • SIG SG 550
    • GIAT FAMAS F1 (Mainly used ceremonially) 
    • HK G36
    • CZ-BREN 2 (Seen increasing used amongst the GIGN)

    Sniper Rifles:

    • Accuracy International Arctic Warfare in .308 and .338
    • PGM Hecate II in 12.7x99m
    CZ BREN 2 in GIGN configuration
    CZ BREN 2 in GIGN configuration

    4.2 Vehicles of the GIGN

    Furthermore, the GIGN makes use of a variety of custom vehicles suitable for whatever operation they are engaging in. They are often armoured and equipped with assault ramps/ladders. These include, but are not limited to:

    • Chevrolet Suburbans 
    • Toyota Land Cruiser
    • Sherpa Light 4×4
    • Various Helicopters (for aerial insertion and extraction)
    GIGN Operators pose with equipment 2022
    GIGN Operators pose with equipment 2022

    5. Notable Operations of the GIGN

    Given that the GIGN has carried out over 1800 missions, there is an array of notable operations. However, many of their earlier operations are relatively unknown because of the existence of the organisation not being publicised.

    5.1 Loyada Hostage Rescue Mission

    The 1976 Loyada Hostage Rescue Mission occurred in the African nation of Djibouti. In this incident, four Front de Liberation de la Cote de Somalis (FCLS) militants took 31 French children hostage. Their goal was to secure the release of imprisoned comrades and, if this failed, to kill the children. The GIGN in France and the French Foreign Legion who were in the vicinity, and tasked with saving the hostages. (Source) In response, a GIGN team of 9 snipers, led by the founder of the GIGN Prouteau, took up positions overlooking the bus. They then launched an assault with mixed results. Although they killed the militants, gunfire killed one child, and they kidnapped and took another to Somalia. In the end, the GIGN snipers performed well, and this operation was one of their first missions. Also, it was their first mission outside of France. (Source)

    Christian Prouteau the founder of the GIGN talking to French Foreign Legion members during the Loyada Mission

    5.2 Air France Flight 8969:

    At first, the GIGN was a fairly unknown unit, but after the hijacking of Air France Flight 8969 in 1994, they reached critical acclaim. Four Jihadist terrorists hijacked the flight from Algeria and started executing hostages as they threatened to crash the plane into the Eiffel Tower. The Algerian Government allowed the plane to depart after encouragement from the French Government and it was cleared to land in Marseille. (Source)

    After delaying tactics failed and the terrorists began executions the GIGN assaulted the plane. Their rush to the plane and the subsequent attack was broadcasted on live TV to the nation. Over 400 rounds of ammunition were fired, and multiple explosives were used. This resulted in all four terrorists’ deaths and nine GIGN operators wounded, but no further hostages were killed, resulting in a major success for the GIGN. (Source)

    GIGN Operators storming the highjacked plane in Marseille
    GIGN Operators storming the highjacked plane in Marseille

    5.3 Charlie Hebdo Attack:

    Another famous example of where the GIGN was deployed would be the infamous Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015. In this attack, terrorists killed 12 comic artists after the outlet published a satirical cartoon of the prophet Mohammed. The GIGN pursued the attackers as they left and ran a manhunt operation across Paris. This eventually resulted in the GIGN locating and engaging in a gunfight with the two perpetrators, killing both. (Source)

    GIGN operators in an urban environment
    GIGN operators in an urban environment

    5.4 Bataclan Theatre Attack:

    In November 2015, nine terrorists, claiming to be retaliating against the French state for airstrikes against ISIL, launched a series of attacks across Paris. It was the deadliest day in France since WW2. The terrorists took hostages at the Bataclan theatre where over 1,500 people were attending. The unit was mobilised and played an integral role in the eventual storming and rescue operation, with over 5000 rounds fired. (Source) The terrorists killed many of the hostages, but it is likely that without the GIGNs quick response and effectiveness, the number would be substantially higher.

    6. Summary:

    The GIGN is likely to continue to serve as France’s premier counterterrorist response unit. Their ability to be deployed quickly internally and abroad is an invaluable asset to the French state. They will continue to be one of the premier counter-terrorist groups in Europe and a core member of the ATLAS Network.

    Aidan Hickey
    Aidan Hickey
    Aidan is a Third Year War Studies Student at King's College London with a keen interest in the Middle-East and Insurgency.

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