Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale – GIGN

The French equivalent for the US Navy SEALs
GIGN (Photo: XY)

The one of the first French special units after Munich 1972 massacre was Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale or just GIGN. The GIGN is the primary French counter-terrorism unit and an elite unit for special operations. They were established in 1973 when Europe realized that ordinary law enforcement and Army units are simply not enough for new terrorism tactics. The first commander of the newly created unit then known as Regionale d’Equipe intervention (ECRI) was a Christian Prouteau.

French GIGN members brandishing their gear and equipment

Prouteau’s unit has undergone a transformation in 1977. On that year, they got their current name Groupe d’Intervention Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN).

In September 2007, GIGN has undergone a new major transformation and full reorganization. In fact, the unit was extended with the members of Gendarmerie Parachute Squadron (EPIGN) and with 30 members from GSPR unit. Today, GIGN has three main sections, as follows:

  • Fast response (original GIGN)
  • Reconnaissance (former EPIGN)
  • VIP protection (the former EPIGN and members from GSPR)

The unit is part of a group Groupe de Securite et d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GSIGN).

GIGN members boarding Pascal Paoli

The GIGN as one of the most elite special units in France have multiple tasks, but among all of them, one is particularly important – the counter-terrorism. Other tasks of GIGN are not quite different like in the other modern special forces units. Hostage rescue, high-risk warrants, VIP protection…

GIGN missions through history from Djibouti to France

Since its creation, GIGN has carried out more than 1000 missions and alongside that they have freed more than 500 hostages, arrested over 1000 suspects and killed 12 suspects. Until the worst day in France since WWII, when terrorists killed 130 and wounded more than 350 people, GIGN lost two members in the line of duty and Two service dogs also were killed in action, while one died during the training.

Most significant GIGN missions include:

  • Djibouti 1976: The liberation of 30 hostages from a school bus captured by the Front de Libération de la Côte des Somalis, “Somali Coast Liberation Front” – FLCS.
  • San Salvador 1979: The plans and preparation for an assault on the French embassy (the hostage-takers surrendered before the assault was conducted).
  • Saudi Arabia 1979: GIGN commandos were present and had a leading role in regaining control during the Grand Mosque Seizure.
  • Corsica, Italy 1980: Arrest of a Corsican terrorist of the National Liberation Front of Corsica in Fesch Hostel.
  • New Caledonia 1988: Liberation of hostages of the Ouvéa cave hostage taking in Ouvea.
  • Albertville 1992: Main counter-terrorism unit during the 1992 Olympic Winter Games.
  • Marseille 1994: The most-recognized mission performed by GIGN when they freed 229 passengers who were held as hostages on Air France Flight 8969. The plane was hijacked by four GIA terrorists. The terrorists wanted to destroy French National Symbol Eiffel Tower. During the standoff, terrorists executed three passengers while negotiating with the Algerian government.
  • Comoros 1995: Arrest of Bob Denard.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina 1996: Operations to protect peace and arrest persons indicted for war crimes in ex-Yugoslavia conflicts.
  • Somalia 2008: Seizing of 6 Somali pirates and recovery of part of the ransom after making sure Le Ponant luxury yacht hostages were freed in the coast of Puntland in Somalia on the Gulf of Aden. The mission was carried out in cooperation with French Commandos Marines (Naval commandos).
  • France 2015: Key involvement in the operation of hunting down suspected terrorists involved in Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack.
  • France 2015: GIGN members were present on the scene at the Bataclan Theater during the Paris attacks on November 13.
  • Mali 2015: GIGN members were deployed to handle an al-Qaeda hostage situation at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali.

The GIGN as the unit is the main special unit designated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to conduct training and teach the special forces of the other member states in hostage-rescue exercises aboard planes.

Sometimes, the GIGN is designated as equivalent to the US Navy SEALs, a special unit operating worldwide, whenever US interests are in danger.

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