French GIGN

Posted by David Burnell on

GIGN (Groupe d'intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale; English: National Gendarmerie Intervention Group) is the elite police tactical unit of the French National Gendarmerie. Its missions include counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, surveillance of national threats, protection of government officials, and targeting organized crime.

GIGN was established in 1974 following the Munich massacre. Created initially as a relatively small tactical unit specialized in sensitive hostage situations, it has since grown into a larger and more diversified force of nearly 400 members, with expanded responsibilities. GIGN shares jurisdiction of French territory with the National Police special-response units.

GIGN is headquartered in Versailles-Satory near Paris. Although most of its operations take place in France, the unit, as a component of the French Armed Forces, can operate anywhere in the world. Many of its missions are secret, and members are not allowed to be publicly photographed. Since its formation, GIGN has been involved in over 1,800 missions and rescued more than 600 hostages, making it one of the most experienced counter-terrorism units in the world.

The unit came into prominence following its successful assault on a hijacked Air France flight at Marseille Marignane airport in December 1994.


GIGN was formed in Maisons-Alfort, near Paris, in 1973 in the wake of the Munich massacre and other less well known events in France. Initially named ECRI (Équipe commando régionale d’intervention or Regional Commando Intervention Team), it became operational in March 1974, under the command of then-lieutenant Christian Prouteau and performed its first mission ten days later. Another unit, named GIGN, was created simultaneously within the Gendarmerie parachute squadron in Mont-de-Marsan in southwest France but the two units were merged under Prouteau's command in 1976 and adopted the GIGN designation. GIGNs initial complement was 15, later increased to 32 in 1976, 78 by 1986, and 120 by 2005. GIGN moved to Versailles-Satory in 1982.

In 1984, it became the police tactical unit of a larger organisation called GSIGN (Groupement de sécurité et d'intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale - ), together with EPIGN (Escadron parachutiste d'intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale), the Gendarmerie Parachute Squadron, GSPR (Groupe de sécurité de la présidence de la République), the Presidential Security group and GISA (Groupe d'instruction et de sécurité des activités), a specialized training center.

On 1 September 2007, a major reorganization took place. In effect, GSIGN was renamed GIGN and its former components (the original GIGN, EPIGN, GSPR and GISA) became "forces" of the new GIGN which now reached a total complement of 380 operators.

More than a simple name swap, the new organization aimed at:
reinforcing command and control functions providing better integration through common selection, common training and stronger support.  improving the unit's capability to handle complex situations such as mass hostage-takings similar to the Beslan crisis.

In 2009, the Gendarmerie, while remaining part of the French Armed Forces, was attached to the Ministry of the interior, which already supervised the National Police. The respective areas of responsibility of each force did not change however as the Police already had primary responsibility for major cities and large urban areas while the Gendarmerie was in charge of smaller towns, rural areas as well as specific military missions. Under the new command structure, GIGN gendarmes can still be engaged in military operations outside of France due to their military status.

Coordination between GIGN and RAID, the national police elite team, is handled by a joint organization called Ucofi (Unité de coordination des forces d’intervention). A "leader/follower" protocol has been established for use when both units need to be engaged jointly, leadership belonging to the unit operating in its primary areas of responsibility.

Since its creation, the group has taken part in over 1800 operations, liberated over 600 hostages and arrested over 1500 suspects, losing two members killed in action and seven in training. The two fatalities in action were sustained when dealing with armed deranged persons.

On December 9th, 2011, French Ministry of Defence, Gerard Longuet, gave the Cross for Military Valor to the flag of the unit for its participation to operation Harmattan in Libya.

On July 31st, 2013, the unit's flag received a second Cross for Military Valor for its participation in the Afghanistan War (2001-).

In January 2015, GIGN is engaged for the very first time simultaneously with RAID (French police unit), during the January 2015 Île-de-France attacks.

On June 15th, 2015, the unit's flag received the Medal for internal security and, due to its two Crosses for Military Valor, members of the group are officially allowed to wear the Fourragère.

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