GRENZSCHUTZGRUPPE 9 (GSG9)

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The GSG 9 (formerly the German abbreviation of Grenzschutzgruppe 9, Border Guards, Group 9) is the counter-terrorism unit of the German Federal Police, and is considered to be among the best of such units in the world. Many later counter-terrorism units of other nations were modeled after the GSG 9.

In 1972, the Palestinian terrorist movement Black September used the Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany to kidnap eleven Israeli athletes, killing two in the Olympic Village in the initial assault on the athletes’ rooms. The incident tragically culminated when German police, neither trained nor equipped for counter-terrorism operations, attempted to rescue the athletes; they failed miserably, and the operation led to the death of one policeman, five of the eight kidnappers and the remaining nine hostages (subsequently called the Munich massacre). As a consequence of the affair’s mismanagement, German officials created the GSG 9 under the leadership of then Lieutenant Colonel Ulrich Wegener so that similar situations in the future could be responded to adequately and professionally.

The unit was officially established on April 17, 1973 as a part of Germany’s federal-level police agency, the Bundesgrenzschutz (federal border guard service; renamed in 2005 to Bundespolizei, federal police). The name GSG 9 stood for “Grenzschutzgruppe 9” (border guards group 9) and was chosen simply because there existed eight regular border guard groups at the time, although after the 2005 renaming the expansion was dropped and the abbreviation GSG 9 is now the single official way to refer to the unit. Its formation was based on the expertise of the British SAS and the Israeli Sayeret Matkal, where Wegener emphasises especially the importance of the Israelis.

Its first mission, which is still one of the most well-known and established the GSG 9’s reputation as an excellent unit, was “Operation Feuerzauber” (operation fire magic). 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. After a four-day odyssey through the Middle East, 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: all hostages were rescued, three hijackers died, the fourth was heavily injured. Only one GSG 9 member and one flight-attendant were injured. The international counter-terrorism community applauded GSG 9 for the excellent and professional handling of the situation, especially because an assault on a plane is considered one of the most difficult scenarios.