It’s been an eventful year already for France’s special police units.
Three separate “intervention” teams have been called to action since the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and subsequent hostage crises claimed 17 lives last week.
France sent RAID, which stands for research, assistance, intervention, and dissuasion, and GIGN, the Intervention Group of the National Gendarmerie, to hunt down Cherif and Said Kouachi, who killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo’s offices.
Earlier today, Paris deployed RAID and BRI (“Research and Intervention Brigade”) in a hostage situation at a post office outside of the capital. Both teams were also used in response to a hostage situation at a kosher market in which 4 people were killed.
RAID is a 200-strong special force founded in 1985 to counter major robberies, organised crime and terrorism.
Though it works in areas closest to Paris, RAID can be sent anywhere in France as directed by the nation’s traditional police force. That was the case in 2012, when RAID killed Mohamed Merah, an extremist who killed 7 people during a week-long rampage, after a 32-hour siege in Toulouse in southern France.
RAID was also behind the rescue of 21 kindergarteners and their teacher in a two-day crisis in 1993. Most of the children — held hostage by a man with 16 sticks of dynamite strapped to his body — were rescued in negotiations leading up to the eventual raid. The perpetrator was killed while asleep in a classroom.
RAID is also frequently used in less high-profile situations, as captured in French newsmagazine program “Le Droit de savoir.”
GIGN is an older organisation founded in the wake of the Munich massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympics. French news outlet Le Figaro reports the group has some 400 members based in Versailles, just west of Paris; the organisation’s site specifies it is capable of fielding 280 armed specialists in extreme situations.
Though similar to RAID, GIGN is more suited to open, rural settings.
The organisation did the heavy lifting in the firefight with the Kouachi brothers, setting up snipers, vehicles, and assault teams around the industrial building where the terrorists made their last stand.
The unit is also trained for interventions on aeroplanes, as in its forcible response to four gunmen who hijacked Air France Flight 8969 in 1994.
Public television channel France 3 reported that since its founding, GIGN has launched more than 1,000 operations and rescued more than 600 hostages.
Finally, BRI is a special unit belonging to Paris’s own police department, intervening only within and around the capital. An unofficial site on RAID and other special police forces reports that BRI counts 48 full members, and can field up to 72 if necessary.
Since the “R” in BRI stands for research, a ten-year veteran of the unit told Paris Match, only five per cent of their work time is in actual interventions in the field.
They’re expertly trained for stakeouts and surveillance. “When you’ve been hiding away undercover in a car for over a month and nothing moves, it can get pretty boring,” the unit veteran said. “The real quality you need to work here is patience.”
Though the three units are separate, RAID and GIGN especially work closely together. In the late 2000s, French Minister of the Interior Michèle Alliot-Marie initiated joint exercises. And on January 10th, GIGN’s Twitter account thanks all three units for their work during an incredibly trying week.
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