EKO Cobra: A prime tactical unit of the Austrian police

EKO Cobra: A prime tactical unit of the Austrian police

The Einsatzkommando Cobra (EKO Cobra) is an elite special unit of the Austrian police. They were formerly known as GEK (Gendarmerieeinsatzkommando) and they were formed in 1978, primarily as a response to the attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Their headquarters are located in Wiener Neustadt, with sub-offices in Graz, Linz, and Innsbruck. EKO Cobra is Austria’s primary counter-terrorism special operations tactical unit. EKO Cobra is not part of the Austrian Federal Police but is directly under the control of the Austrian Federal Ministry for the Interior. They were responsible for the unit’s name change from GEK to EKO Cobra in 2002.

The 450 men of EKO Cobra have trained with some of the most elite special forces units.

Operators from Estonian K-Commando providing suppressive fire during the exercise
Operators from Estonian K-Commando providing suppressive fire during the exercise (Photo: XY)

Public-known missions of EKO Cobra

The Einsatzkommando Cobra was involved in a now-famous hostage rescue in the Graz-Karlau Prison in 1996 and numerous other dangerous operations. Although it has never participated in the same type of hostage rescue operations that the FBI HRTGIGN, GIS, NSG, GSG 9, British Special Air Service and other similar units have had, the EKO Cobra is still the only Counter-Terrorism unit to end a hijacking while the plane was still in the air.

Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-154 hijacking

That happened on 17 October 1996 when four EKO Cobra officers were on board an Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-154 escorting deported prisoners to Lagos when a Nigerian man threatened the cockpit crew with a small knife and demanded a diversion to Germany or South Africa. The team overpowered the man and handed him over to the authorities after landing. The officers received a decoration by then-Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin.

Alois Huber manhunt

The most recent large operations when 135 EKO Cobra operatives were involved was on September 17, 2013. The mission target was Alois Huber, who killed three police officers and one Red Cross paramedic in Lower Austria. The operation was search-based, and when EKO Cobra located the suspect in the forest, he committed suicide.

Organization and structure

The Einsatzkommando Cobra headquarters is located in Lower Austria (Wiener Neustadt). Its task is to perform all administrative activities and the training preparations for the EKO Cobra operatives. Further departments exist in Vienna, Graz, Linz, and Innsbruck with small field offices in Klagenfurt, Salzburg, and Feldkirch.

Each department contains four teams and each field office contains two. This structure allows the units to be deployed anywhere in Austria in less than 70 minutes fully prepared and ready for any task.

Operators of EKO Cobra, Austria in Graz
EKO Cobra operators posing in front of their office in Graz, Austria (Photo: Austrian police)

Selection and training

Any member of the Austrian Federal Police may apply for the Einsatzkommando Cobra – EKO Cobra. The various tests consist of medical examinations, psychological tests, and vigorous physical tests for candidates. Upon successful completion of the tests, now-recruits attend 6 months of specialized training which include marksmanship, tactical training, sports, driver courses, abseiling/rappelling, hand-to-hand combat, language classes, etc.

EKO Cobra hand-to-hand combat training
An operator of EKO Cobra showing its hand-to-hand combat skills during public presentation (Photo: Austrian police)

After recruits finish 6-month training, they can take a further specialization in fields, such as parachuting, diving, explosives, or sniping. Since its establishment in 1978, only 1,140 officers have served in EKO Cobra (2012 data).

Weaponry and gear

Weapons

The Einsatzkommando Cobra is armed mainly with Austrian weaponry, but they have also available foreign-produced arms. Most of their weaponry are Steyr-manufactured weapons, such as the Steyr AUG (military designation: StG 77) assault rifle, the sniper rifle Steyr SSG 69 including its sound-suppressed variant, and the 9mm Steyr TMP machine pistol. Austrian Glock pistols are used as sidearms, the most common being the Glock 17 and Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol chambered in 9×19mm Parabellum caliber along with the Glock 18 with full-auto capability.

Other types of weapons, like the Manurhin MR 73 revolvers, the Franchi SPAS-12, Remington 870 and Heckler & Koch M512 shotguns, the H&K MP5A3 or Heckler & Koch MP7 submachine guns or the MZP-1 40 mm grenade launcher are also used depending on the situation.

Special equipment

EKO Cobra uses a variety of equipment designed for a variety of situations.

  • Protective gear made of kevlar or ceramic
  • Balaclavas
  • Camouflage suits
  • Tonfa batons
  • OC sprays

Uniforms

EKO Cobra officers wear the regular uniform of the Austrian Federal Police with certain modifications:

  • Maroon beret to indicate their elite status
  • The unit’s insignia is worn instead of the police insignia
  • The rank insignia’s background is black instead of red as from the regular Federal Police uniforms

During tactical operations, the officers wear grey or black coveralls along with their tactical gear.

Note: The (real) “helmet-cam” recording seems something less than spectacular, but that was the only material they revealed to the public. The real tactics used by EKO Cobra are off the record, for your and their safety.

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