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GSG 9 badge
|Formed||April 17, 1973|
|Employees||About 250 operators|
|Legal personality||Governmental: Government agency|
|Primary governing body||Government of Germany|
|Secondary governing body||Federal Police (Germany)|
|Specialist jurisdiction||Counter terrorism, special weapons and tactics, protection of VIPs.|
|Overviewed by Police||Federal Ministry of the Interior|
|Headquarters||Sankt Augustin-Hangelar near Bonn|
|Elected minister responsible||Thomas de Maizière|
On September 5, 1972, the Palestinian terrorist movement Black September infiltrated the Summer Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany, to kidnap 11 Israeli athletes, killing 2 in the Olympic Village in the initial assault on the athletes' rooms. The incident culminated when German police, neither trained nor equipped for counter-terrorism operations, and underestimating the number of terrorists involved, attempted to rescue the athletes. Police did not have a specialized tactical sniper team at that time. The army had snipers, but the German Constitution did not allow the use of the German Armed Forces on German soil. The police rescue failed and the operation led to the deaths of one policeman, five of the eight kidnappers and all of the remaining nine hostages (subsequently called the Munich massacre). Apart from the human tragedy, Germany's law enforcement found itself severely compromised, in part due to Germany's historic relationship to Jews and Israel.
History and name
As a consequence of the mismanagement of the Olympic tragedy, the West German government created the GSG 9 under the leadership of then Oberstleutnant Ulrich Wegener so that similar situations in the future could be responded to adequately and professionally. Many German politicians opposed its formation, fearing GSG 9 would rekindle memories of the Nazi Party's Schutzstaffel (SS). The decision was taken to form the unit from police forces (as opposed to from the military, as are the equivalent forces in other countries) on the ground that German federal law expressly forbids the use of the military forces against the civilian population. Composing the special force from police personnel would avoid this difficulty. The unit was officially established on April 17, 1973 as a part of Germany's federal police agency, the Bundesgrenzschutz (Federal Border Guard Service, renamed Bundespolizei or Federal Police in 2005). The name GSG 9 stood for Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (Border Guard Group 9) and was chosen simply because the BGS had eight regular border guard groups at the time. After the 2005 renaming, the abbreviation "GSG 9" was kept due to the fame of the unit and is now the official way to refer to the unit. Its formation was based on the expertise of the British SAS Counter Terrorist Units and Israeli Special Operations.
GSG 9 is deployed in cases of hostage-taking, kidnapping, terrorism and extortion. The group may also be used to secure locations, neutralize targets, track down fugitives and sometimes conduct sniper operations. The unit is very active in developing and testing methods and tactics for these missions. Finally, the group may provide advice to the different Länder, ministries and international allies. The group assists the Bundespolizei and other federal and local agencies on request. At the time of the 1977 Mogadishu mission, the Commander of the Israeli Border Police Tzvi War described GSG 9 as "The best anti-terrorist group in the world."
From 1972 to 2003 they reportedly completed over 1,500 missions, discharging their weapons on only five occasions. At the SWAT World Challenge in 2005, GSG 9 won an impressive eight out of eight events, beating 17 other teams. GSG 9 defended its championship the following year, and placed fifth in 2007.
Germany offered to render assistance to India in the wake of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. GSG 9 helped train and upgrade the National Security Guards, the primary Indian counter-terrorism unit. Further help was provided to the Mumbai Police so that they could raise a SWAT team.
Its first mission, "Operation Feuerzauber" (Operation Fire Magic), immediately established the GSG 9's reputation as an elite unit. It was carried out in 1977 when Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Landshut, a Lufthansa plane on the way from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt, demanding that imprisoned members of the German Red Army Faction terrorist group be freed in exchange for the passengers and crew who would be held as hostages. The aircraft was then flown to several destinations throughout the Middle East. During this time, the Lufthansa captain Jürgen Schumann was murdered by the leader of the hijackers in Aden.
Following a four-day odyssey, the hijackers directed the Boeing 737 to Mogadishu, Somalia, where they waited for the arrival of the Red Army Faction members after the German government had (falsely) signalled they would be released. In the night between October 17 and October 18, Somalian ranger units created a distraction, while members of the GSG 9 stormed the plane.
The operation lasted seven minutes and was successful with all of the hostages rescued. Three hijackers died, the fourth was seriously injured. Only one GSG 9 member and one flight attendant were injured. The international counter-terrorism community applauded the GSG 9 for the excellent and professional handling of the situation, as assaults on planes are considered to be one of the most difficult operations that a hostage rescue force is likely to need to do. To support the GSG 9 action, two accompanying British SAS advisers provided some newly developed flash bang grenades, but ultimately the flash bangs were never used due to the fire risk inside the aircraft cabin.
Publicly known missions
- October 17–18, 1977: Lufthansa Flight 181 was hijacked by four Palestinian terrorists demanding the release of Red Army Faction (RAF) members. GSG 9 officers stormed the aircraft on the ground in Mogadishu, Somalia with help from the Somali Army and British SAS, and freed all 86 hostages, killing three terrorists and capturing the remaining one.
- 1982: Arrest of RAF terrorists Mohnhaupt and Schulz.
- June 27, 1993: Arrest of RAF terrorists Birgit Hogefeld and Wolfgang Grams in Bad Kleinen. The theory that Wolfgang Grams was executed in revenge for the death of GSG 9 operative Michael Newrzella during the mission (Grams had shot and killed Newrzella when Newrzella tried to tackle him) was discredited by the official investigation which found that Grams committed suicide.
- 1993: Ending of the hijacking of a KLM flight from Tunis to Amsterdam, redirected to Düsseldorf, without firing a single shot.
- 1994: Ended a hostage situation in the Kassel Penitentiary.
- 1994: Involved in the search for the kidnappers Albert and Polak.
- 1998: Arrest of a man trying to extort money from the German railway company Deutsche Bahn.
- 1999: Arrest of Metin Kaplan in Cologne.
- 1999: Arrest of two suspected members of the Rote Zellen (Red Cells) in Berlin.
- 1999: Involved in ending the hostage situation in the central bank in Aachen.
- 2000: Advised the Philippines in relation to a hostage situation.
- 2001: Arrested two spies in Heidelberg.
- 2001: Assisted in the liberation of four German tourists in Egypt.
- 2002: Arrested a number of terrorists related to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
- 2003: Protection of the four members of the German Technisches Hilfswerk (THW - the governmental disaster relief organization of Germany) in Baghdad, Iraq. The THW's mission was to repair the water distribution network.
- 2004: GSG 9 is responsible for protecting German embassy property and personnel, including the embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. On April 7, 2004 two members were attacked and killed near Fallujah while in a convoy travelling from Amman, Jordan to Baghdad. The men, aged 25 and 38, were travelling in a car at the rear of the convoy, and therefore received most of the enemy fire after passing the ambush. The men were shot after their armoured Mitsubishi Pajero/Shogun was hit and stopped by RPGs. In a later statement, the attackers apologized for mistaking the German convoy for an American convoy. One of the bodies is still missing.
- 2007: Three suspected terrorists were seized on Tuesday, 4 September 2007 for planning huge bomb attacks on targets in Germany. The bombs they were planning to make would have had more explosive power than those used in the Madrid and London terror attacks. They wanted to build a bomb in southern Germany capable of killing as many as possible. Fritz Gelowicz, 29, Adem Yilmaz, 29 and Daniel Schneider, 22, were charged with membership in a terrorist organization, making preparations for a crime involving explosives and, in Schneider's case, attempted murder.
- 2009: The GSG 9 were on the verge of boarding a German freighter, the MV Hansa Stavanger, which had been hijacked by Somali pirates. The case of the Hansa Stavanger, at this time off the Somali coast seemed sufficiently symbolic to justify another potentially successful rescue operation, though on a much larger scale. More than 200 GSG 9, equipped with helicopters, speedboats and advanced weapons, had been secretly brought, via Kenya, to a location 80 kilometres (50 mi) from the German freighter. The United States Navy helicopter carrier USS Boxer (LHD-4) was lent to the Germans to act as their flagship, and a screen of German Navy warships flanked the Boxer. The ships had been patrolling near the Hansa Stavanger for days, waiting at a distance to evade detection on the pirates' radar screens. But the operation was called off before the rescue effort could begin. US National Security Advisor James L. Jones had called the Chancellery to cancel the operation. The US government, worried that the operation could turn into a suicide mission, was sending the USS Boxer back to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, where the German forces were to disembark. Officials at the German Federal Police headquarters in Potsdam, outside Berlin, concerned about the potential for a bloodbath, had also spoken out against the operation.
- 2012: GSG 9 was involved in a raid on the Hanover Hells Angels chapter leader Frank Hanebuth's house, as part of a crackdown on the group. During the raid they knocked down the wooden gate and rappelled from a helicopter onto his residence. They are also reported to have shot a dog on the premises belonging to Hanebuth.
Note: The majority of this unit's missions are confidential and public information is not available. Since its inception, GSG 9 has participated in over 1,500 missions, yet reportedly fired shots only on five occasions (official count, prior to the 2003 Iraq War). These occasions were Mogadishu in 1977, Bad Kleinen in 1993, Aachen in 1999 and two more missions where firearms were used to shoot dogs of the persons being arrested.
The unit forms part of the German Bundespolizei (Federal Police, formerly Bundesgrenzschutz), and thus has normal police powers, including, for example, the power of arrest. The Federal Police of Germany (and thus the GSG 9) is under the control of the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The Bundespolizei also provides aerial transportation for the GSG 9. In contrast, regular police forces are subordinate to the various States or Länder, as are their Spezialeinsatzkommando (SEK) teams, while the military is responsible for the Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK) (Special Forces command) and the Kampfschwimmer.
The GSG 9 is based in Sankt Augustin-Hangelar near Bonn and is currently under the command of Olaf Lindner. Previous commanders were Ulrich Wegener, Uwe Dee, Jürgen Bischoff and Friedrich Eichele. GSG 9 consists of three main sub-groups, plus a number of support groups:
- Airborne operations
- The third sub-group of the GSG 9 is used for airborne operations, including parachuting and helicopter landings.
- Central services
- This service group maintains the GSG 9 armoury and is involved in testing, repairing and purchasing weapons, ammunition, and explosives.
- Documentation unit
- This unit handles communications, including the testing, repairing and purchasing of communications and surveillance equipment.
- Maritime operations
- The second sub-group of the GSG 9 is used for operations at sea, for example the hijacking of ships or oil platforms.
- Operations staff
- Handles the administration of GSG 9.
- Regular operations
- The first sub-group of the GSG 9 is used for regular land-based counter-terrorism actions. This may involve cases of hostage taking, defusing bombs, kidnapping, terrorism or extortion. The group may also be used to secure locations, neutralize targets, sniping and tracking fugitives.
- Technical unit
- This unit supports other units in gaining entry to target areas and is responsible for the procurement, testing and issuance of non-weapon equipment. The members of the technical unit are also explosive ordnance disposal experts and they are cross-trained in direct action operations. They are trained in the rendering safe and disposal of improvised explosive devices
- Training unit
- This unit trains existing members, and selects, recruits and trains new members.
Recruitment and training
- Final interview
- Marksmanship test with duty pistol and submachine gun
- Medical examination
- Physical tests which includes 5000 meters run, 100 meters sprint, jump, chin-ups, bench press and an obstacle course
- Psychological examination
The subsequent 22-week training period includes thirteen weeks of basic training and nine weeks of specialized training. The identity of GSG 9 members is classified as top secret. Further training often involves co-operation with other allied counter-terrorism units, e.g. Israel's Yamam. Only one in five pass the training course.
- AMP Technical Services DSR-1
- Fabrique Nationale de Herstal SCAR assault rifle family
- Glock 17
- Glock knife
- GSG9 Tactical Boot (Designed specifically for GSG 9 by Adidas)
- Heckler & Koch 416 Commando
- Heckler & Koch 417 Commando
- Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle (G36K and G36C)
- Heckler & Koch MP5, in various versions/configurations.
- Heckler & Koch MP7A1
- Heckler & Koch MZP-1
- Heckler & Koch PSG1
- Remington 870
- SIG Sauer SG 550 assault rifle family
- Steyr AUG A3
- USP 45 Tactical (designated "P12")
- Sinn UX GSG 9 diving watch
- Smith & Wesson model 19
- GSG9 is a member of the ATLAS Network.
- In 1975 the commune Bischofsgrün in Bavaria assumed a sponsorship of the GSG 9.
- Since 1983 the GSG 9 hosts the Combat Team Conference (CTC) on a four year basis. The CTC is a competition of international special forces units.
- The GSG-9-Kameradschaft e. V. is an association of former GSG 9 operators.
- A similar unit with the name Diensteinheit IX (Service unit 9) existed in East Germany.
- Public Security Section 9 (公安9課 Kōan Kyūka?) is a fictional intelligence department from Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell anime and manga series. In the series, the group was designed and named after GSG9.
- ATLAS Network
- Bereitschaftspolizei, German state police forces' riot police units.
- Kampfschwimmer, special forces unit of the German Navy
- Kommando Spezialkräfte, special forces unit of the Bundeswehr
- List of law enforcement agencies in Germany
- Spezialeinsatzkommando, German state police forces' SWAT units.
- Zentrale Unterstützungsgruppe Zoll, Special Support Team for Customs.
Comparable counter terrorism units
- Federal Police, Duties and Organisation[dead link], page 17.
- History of The Original SWAT WORLD Challenge[dead link] "Team GSG-9, the Federal Border Police of Germany, swept the competition and won all seven events."
- [dead link]
- "Elite German police wing to train NSG". Indian Express. 2008-12-20. Retrieved 2011-01-25.
- Samanta, Pranab Dhal (2009-03-29). "German counter-terror force to help set up Mumbai SWAT team". Indian Express. Retrieved 2011-01-25.
- Interview with Ulrich Wegener, Welt Online, 13. Oktober 2007 retrieved on 12-01-2008
- [dead link]
- [dead link]
- Mission Impossible: German Elite Troop Abandons Plan to Free Pirate Hostages - SPIEGEL ONLINE
- BBC News - German police target Hells Angels in large-scale raids
- GSG 9 der Bundespolizei: Informationbrochure Die GSG 9 der Bundespolizei sucht Nachwuchs! (Stand: 28. Juni 2007). [Handed out ob June 19, 2010 by the Federal Police of Germany on an information day at the Federal Criminal Police Office]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to GSG 9.|
- Official GSG 9 page of the German Federal Police
- Site of the GSG 9 companionship
- GSG 9 SpecialOperations.com
- Demonstration video