French Special Operations

Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN)


The GIGN (Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale) is the French Gendarmerie’s elite counter-terrorism and hostage rescue unit. It is composed of 120 men, including 11 officers. It is considered to be one of the world’s best counter-terrorism units.

Its missions include the arrest of gunmen, in particular those taking hostages, counter-terrorism, including airplane hijacking or prevention of mutiny in prisons.

It is headquartered in Satory, west of Paris. Along with the EPIGN and the GSPR it forms the GSIGN (Groupe de Sécurité et d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale, Group of Security and Intervention of the National Gendarmerie).


After the tragic events of the Munich massacre during the Olympic Games in 1972, and a prison mutiny in Clairvaux the next year, France started to study the possible solutions to extremely violent attacks, under the assumptions that these would be extremely difficult to predict and deflect.

In 1973, the GIGN was created as a permanent force of men trained and equipped to respond to these kind of threats while minimizing risks for the public and hostages, for the members of the unit, and for the attackers themselves. The GIGN became operational on the first of March, 1974, under command of Lieutenant Christian Prouteau.

Ten days later, a terrorist group was successfully stopped in Ecquevilly, validating the techniques of the unit and proving its necessity.

Known Operations

Since its creation, the group has taken part in over 1000 operations, liberated over 500 hostages, arrested over 1000 suspects, and killed a dozen terrorists. The unit has seen 2 members killed in action, and 7 in training, since its foundation, and 2 of its dogs in action and 1 in training.

Past actions included:

  • Liberation of 30 children from a bus captured by the FLCS (front de libération de la côte somalienne, “Somaly Coast Liberation Front”) in Djibouti in 1976.
  • Planning the liberation of diplomats from the French embassy in San Salvador in 1979 (the hostage-takers surrendered before the assault was conducted)
  • GIGN advisors were sent during the Grand Mosque Seizure, in November and December 1979
  • Arrest of a Corsican commando in Fesch Hostel in 1980
  • Liberation of hostages of the Ouvéa cave hostage taking in may 1988
  • Protection of the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in Albertville
  • In December 1994, the liberation of the 164 passengers of Air France Flight 8969 in Marignane. The plane, hijacked by four GIA terrorists that wished to destroy the Eiffel Tower, had been completely mined, and three passengers had been executed during the negotiations with the Algerian government. The mission was widely publicized.
  • Arrest of Bob Denard in 1995 in Comoros
  • Operations in Bosnia to arrest persons indicted for war crimes.

The GIGN was selected by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to teach the special forces of the other member states.

GIGN Leaders

  • lieutenant (Lieutenant) Christian Prouteau : 1973-1982
  • capitaine (Captain) Paul Barril : 1982-1983 (Interim)
  • capitaine Philippe Masselin : 1983-1985
  • capitaine Philippe Legorjus : 1985-1989
  • chef d’escadron (Squadron leader) Lionel Chesneau : 1989-1992
  • capitaine Denis Favier : 1992-1997
  • chef d’escadron Eric Gerard : 1997–2002
  • chef d’escadron Frédéric Gallois : since 2002


The GIGN is divided into four groups: negotiation, special equipment section (mechanics, video, weaponry), a language group (individuals specialized in teaching foreign units), and a technical group which provides the unit with modified and high-tech equipment, by either selecting or designing it.

Training includes shooting, marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat techniques (Krav Maga). Members of the GIGN are widely regarded as having some of the best firearms training in the world. It is for this reason that many of the world’s special operations and counterterrorist units conduct exchange programs with the GIGN.

Optional competences: police dogs, diving, parachuting, explosives, survival, the education in those various capabilities being dispensed by the appropriate training centers of the French military.

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