Two armed robbers, reportedly illegal Brazilian immigrants, who held a pair of hostages for around eight hours, were shot by GOE marksmen in a Banco Espírito Santo (BES) branch at 72 Rua Marquês de Fronteira, Campolide near the centre of the capital on August 14, 2008. The two men first held six hostages and the situation escalated when the pinned guns to the heads of two bank employees as they moved towards the exit of the bank in a bid to get into a getaway vehicle parked outside the bank.
That was the moment when Grupo de Operações Especiais – GOE sniper were given the order to shoot the assailants. One of the robbers died on scene while the other was taken to the hospital. In the second when he assailants were shot by police snipers, the two captives fled from the bank to safety. Both hostages were unhurt but shaken after their ordeal.
In total, three shots were fired, two by the GOE officers and a third by the surviving robber, who fired his gun into the air as he fell after being shot. However, one of the hostages said this week she was surprised and somewhat dismayed that no psychological assistance had been provided for her.
Robber Nilton Sousa was shot dead while holding a sack containing the money in one hand and a gun with the other. He was killed with a single sniper shot by Grupo de Operações Especiais marksmen. The other robber suffered a bullet wound to the cheek. The wounded hostage-taker, Wellington Nazaré, was taken to Lisbon’s São José Hospital in handcuffs where after surgery he tried to escape, but his escape was stopped.
In taking their decisive and deadly action to terminate the hostage situation, Portugal’s Public Security Police (PSP) acted with “competence, dedication and heroism,” Lisbon’s minister stated. It later emerged that the minister himself had given the “shoot-to-kill” order once negotiations with the would-be robbers, who had a bag containing €98,000, broke down.
The wounded robber, Wellington Nazaré spent some time in Portugal prison after he recovered and then was deported to Brasil.
The Real U.S. Special Operations Command
Most perceptions of special operations are formed by movies like “American Sniper,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Lone Survivor” or “Black Hawk Down.”
Here are some facts you should know about U.S. Special Operations Command:
- U.S. Special Operations Command is based at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, and Army Gen. Tony Thomas turned over the reins of the worldwide combatant command to Army Gen. Richard Clarke today.
- The command was formed after the failure of Operation Eagle Claw, a mission to rescue the American hostages in Tehran, Iran, in April 1980. Eight American special operations personnel died in the effort. A study faulted a lack of cooperation among the forces. This led to the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1987 and on, April 16, 1987, the establishment of SOCOM.
- The military services man, train and equip their own special operations forces, but when they are used together, they come under the purview of SOCOM.
- Two special operators — Army Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Army Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shugart — posthumously received the Medal of Honor for their heroism in Mogadishu, Somalia on the Day of the Ranger, Oct. 3, 1993, during the battle made famous in “Black Hawk Down.”
- Special operators were among the first U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 9/11. One battle from this time illustrates just how joint special operations has become. In 2002, atop Takur Ghar mountain in Afghanistan, Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Air Force combat controllers and Army special operations helicopters fought al-Qaida insurgents. Two men — a SEAL and an airman — received the Medal of Honor for that action.
- Army Special Forces — the Green Berets — specialize in working with indigenous forces. They performed this mission during the Vietnam War and continue with it today as they work with Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against ISIS.
- The Marine Corps did not have troops assigned to Socom until 2006. Now an integral part of the command, the Marines specialize in direct action and special reconnaissance operations.
Rescue of Singapore Airlines flight SQ 117 over in 30 secs flat
Fred Cheong, 55, has done a lot more than the average person across two starkly different lives. The Special Forces commando graduated from the excruciating US Navy SEAL course, stormed a hijacked Singapore Airlines plane, and molded multiple batches of officer cadets into soldiers.
After leaving the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Cheong became a Buddhist monk. Since then he has lived simply in a monastery, meditated on snow-capped mountains deep in the Himalayas, and led dharma retreats all over the world.
This is why Cheong prefers to be known as the Venerable Tenzin Drachom, a name given by the Dalai Lama and an acknowledgment of his 32-year military career.
“In Tibetan ‘dra’ means delusion, ‘chom’ means destroyer,” he told Channel NewsAsia at his temple-like maisonette in Pasir Ris. “In the military, I destroyed the enemy outside. Now I destroy the enemy inside.”
But as a young, scrawny boy, Drachom never had ambitions of joining the military. Or any strong ambitions, for that matter. “I was not very strong, I couldn’t even swim,” he said. “Maybe I was thinking I wanted to be an air steward.”
In December 1982, the 18-year-old enlisted for National Service and eventually signed on as an officer cadet, after seeing his bunkmates do the same. “Might as well,” he mused. “I thought (joining) the military could not be wrong.”
Hijack of Flight SQ117
Mar 26, 1991 was a day the military could not afford to get wrong.
Singapore Airlines flight SQ117 bound for Singapore was hijacked by four male Pakistani passengers shortly after it took off from Kuala Lumpur.
The plane, carrying 114 passengers and 11 crew, landed at Changi Airport at about 10.30pm. The hijackers, armed with knives, lighters and what looked like explosives, assaulted the pilot, attendants and passengers. Two stewards were pushed off the plane.
The hijackers, who wanted the plane refueled and flown to Sydney, made their demands: To speak to former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and have the authorities release a number of people jailed in Pakistan.
After negotiations spilled into the wee hours of the next morning, the hijackers lost patience and threatened to start killing if their demands were not met.
It was then that authorities gave the signal: Special Operations Force (SOF) commandos were ordered to storm the plane and rescue the hostages. Drachom, by then a seasoned SOF trooper, was part of the team.
“When the time came, it was ‘just do it’,” he said. “There was no mental thought of will I go, will I not go or I’ll call my girlfriend. No bulls***.”
From their training, the commandos knew the interior layout of various aircraft types like the back of their hands. Under the cover of darkness, they approached the Airbus A310.
The adrenaline was pumping, but Drachom treated the operation like “just another drill”.
“You’ve trained your mind to operate under duress,” he said, taking a deep breath. “It was really surgical … so we just have to be very clear, shoot very straight, and let’s do it.”
At about 6.50am the commandos stormed the plane, shouted for passengers to get down and shot all four hijackers dead. The operation lasted just 30 seconds. The years of training prepared the commandos well, but did it also prepare them to take lives?
“We were really quite clear when we went inside there; we knew exactly what to do,” Drachom replied. “You cannot go there and start to think. We go there and do what we train for because there will be that trade-off.”
Drachom stressed that “there wasn’t any ego” from each member of the team. “You were just there to do the job,” he added. “Nothing more.”
When the commandos returned to base, Drachom said nobody there knew how the operation had unfolded. But soon enough, elite forces from around the world wanted to visit, curious about how they had executed the mission so successfully.
The operation, Drachom noted, had elevated the young Army’s reputation in the eyes of the world.
“Only after the whole thing, we realized that we had rallied and pulled through together as a team,” he added. “What kept us going was a good training system; our due faith in every level that everyone will do their job.”
The details of the operation are still fresh in Drachom’s mind, although he said the team has declared the chapter “forever closed”. “We closed it because we wish that it will never happen again,” he said.