French GIGN: A history of excellence
GIGN is a special unit of the French National Gendarmerie. It was one of the first French special forces formed after the 1972 Munich massacre. The Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN) is the main French counter-terrorism unit and an elite unit for special operations.
The unit was founded in 1973 when Europe realized that ordinary law enforcement and army units were insufficient for new terrorism tactics. The first commander of the newly created unit, then known as the Regionale d’Equipe Intervention (ECRI), was a Christian Prouteau. Prouteau’s unit was transformed in 1977. This year they were given their current name Groupe d’Intervention Gendarmerie Nationale or just GIGN.
French GIGN operator swings his equipment during training (Photo: GIGN)
In September 2007 the unit underwent a new major remodel and restructuring. In fact, the unit was expanded to include members of the Gendarmerie Parachute Squadron (EPIGN) and 30 members of the GSPR unit.
Organization and structure
Today GIGN consists of three main sections:
- Quick reply (Original GIGN)
- Enlightenment (formerly EPIGN)
- VIP protection (the former EPIGN and members of GSPR)
The unit is part of a Groupe de Securite et d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GSIGN).
As one of the most elite special forces in France, the GIGN has several tasks, one of which is particularly important – the fight against terrorism. Other tasks of GIGN do not differ significantly from the other modern special forces. Hostage-taking, execution of high-risk search warrants, VIP protection …
Training and selection
To get the chance to be part of the unit, you must first join the gendarmerie. If you are not French, you must acquire citizenship before you can join. In practice, citizenship lasts around 7 years (you can apply after 5 years of full residence in France; in some cases this is reduced to 2 or 3).
After 4 years of exemplary service, you can apply for the device. Candidates must meet certain physical, psychological and medical requirements. All must be able to practice skydiving on the day of the selection test and be under 34 years of age.
Selection tests: candidates, grouped in two annual national meetings, carry out tests (individual or group tests, personality questionnaires, interviews, scenarios, etc.) for a week.
Missions: at home and abroad
Since its inception, the unit has carried out more than 1,000 missions and has also freed more than 500 hostages, arrested over 1,000 suspects and killed 12 suspects. By 2015, the worst day in France since World War II, terrorists killed 130 and wounded more than 350 people. In a single day, GIGN lost two operators on duty and two service dogs were also killed while on duty, while one died during training.
The GIGN as a unit is the most important special unit designated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to conduct training and instruct the special units of the other member states in hostage rescue exercises on board aircraft.
The moment when GIGN operators boarded the Pascal Paoli ship (Photo: GIGN)
The most important GIGN missions are:
- Djibouti 1976: The liberation of 30 hostages from a school bus that was captured by the Somali Coast Liberation Front (FLCS), the Front de Liberation de la Côte des Somalis.
- San Salvador 1979: The plans and preparations for an attack on the French embassy (the hostage-takers surrendered before the attack was carried out).
- Saudi Arabia 1979: GIGN commandos were present and played a leading role in regaining control during the seizure of the Grand Mosque.
- Corsica, Italy 1980: Arrest of a Corsican terrorist from the Corsican National Liberation Front in the Fesch Hostel.
- New Caledonia 1988: Liberation of the hostages of the Ouvéa cave as hostage-taking in Ouvea.
- Albertville 1992: Counter-Terrorism Division for the 1992 Winter Olympics.
- Marseille 1994: The most famous GIGN mission when 229 passengers who were held hostage on Air France Flight 8969 were freed. Four GIA terrorists hijacked the plane. The terrorists wanted to destroy the French national symbol, the Eiffel Tower. Terrorists executed three passengers during the stalemate while negotiating with the Algerian government.
- Comoros 1995: Bob Denard is arrested.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina 1996: peacekeeping operations and arrest of people charged with war crimes in conflicts outside Yugoslavia.
- Somalia 2008: 6 Somali pirates seized and part of the ransom recovered after ensuring the release of hostages from Le Ponant luxury yachts on the coast of Puntland in Somalia on the Gulf of Aden. GIGN carried out the mission in collaboration with the French Commandos Marines (naval commands).
- France 2015: Mainly involved in the hunt down of suspected terrorists involved in the Charlie Hebdo shooting.
- France 2015: GIGN members were present on the Bataclan theater scene during the November 13th Paris attacks.
- Mali 2015: GIGN members were deployed to deal with an Al Qaeda hostage situation at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali.
Weapons and equipment
The GIGN is famous for its large and varied selection of top-class weapons, most of which are made to order and with special modifications. Members are free to choose their weapons of choice. In typical operations, each member carries a revolver, a semi-automatic pistol, a pump gun and an assault rifle.
Weapons are presented here to the best of our knowledge and belief, as GIGN does not pass this type of information on of course.
- Remington 870
- SPAS-12 passed
- AW SM
- PGM Hecate II