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Who Are the GIGN French Special Forces?

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G.I.G.N. Operator

G.I.G.N. Operator

Who Are the GIGN?

The French special forces are called Groupe D'invertervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale in the French language, which in English is "National Gendarmerie Intervention Group."

They are the elite group or special forces of the French military, and they help with counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, fighting organized crime, surveillance of possible threats, and protecting government officials. This group, which is abbreviated as GIGN, was originally established in 1974 after the Munich massacre.

History and Growth of the Unit

After the Munich massacre in 1974 and other lesser-known events in France at the time, the unit was formed near Paris. It did not adopt the GIGN designation until 1976 when it merged with another group. In 1976, the number of members of this elite unit grew to 32, and 120 by the year 2008, and then increased to 380 by 2017.

This group has participated in 1,800 operations, freed more than 600 hostages, and arrested over 1,500 suspects. Only two members have killed in action. However, they have lost seven in training.

The G.I.G.N. is an experienced counter-terrorism organization.

The G.I.G.N. is an experienced counter-terrorism organization.


The GIGN have been called the most experienced and successful counter-terrorist organization in the world. They use a wide variety of weapons:

  • MP5 sub machine gun
  • Fabarm SDASS Tactical shotgun
  • Hecate II sniper rifle
  • BREN 2 rifle

Yet, they always carry the Manurhin MR73 double-action revolver. The observation that some carry Glock 17s on occasion has been made. While the MR73 revolver is practical, it is also a status symbol.

It was Commissioner Robert Broussard who thought that the revolver was the weapon of choice by American police to take out outlaws in the Wild West and Prohibition gangsters. From a historical perspective, the Manhurin MR73 is one of the only French-made firearms that is still used today.

MR73 Double-Action Revolver

MR73 Double-Action Revolver

Respect of human life and fire discipline have always been taught to group members since inception, and each new member is traditionally issued with a six-shot .357 revolver as a reminder of these values.

— Passage from 2004 issue of the offical Gendarmerie information magazine


There are six divisions of the GIGN and two headquarters (one administrative and one operational). The six divisions are as follows:

  1. Intervention Force: Four platoons that are further divided into teams of operators. They are the main assault unit of the GIGN.
  2. Observation and Search Force: Composed of 40 men and women specializing in counter-terrorism and judiciary police work.
  3. Security and Protection force: It is composed of 65 men and women specializing in site and executive protection.
  4. The Gendarmerie detachment of G.S.P.R. Presidential Security Group: Their main job is to protect the French president.
  5. Operational Support Force: They consist of specialized cells like sniping, breaching, or assault engineering.
  6. Training Force: Their job is training and retraining GIGN operators and selected Gendarmerie or foreign personnel.

Air France Flight 8969

What really stands out in showing how efficient they are is the rescue on "Air France flight 8969" on Christmas Eve in 1994. Four terrorists from the Algerian terrorist group G.I.A. (Islamic Armed Group) got on the plane disguised as secret agents at Honari Boumediene airport in Algeria.

They soon pulled out their machine guns and the flight was hijacked. Immediately, two passengers were killed. They also murdered a police officer from Algeria and a diplomat from Vietnam.

It was only 15 minutes later that the French intelligence notified the government and immediately put the GIGN on standby. The Prime Minister of Algeria started negotiating with the terrorists and the group agreed to release some of the hostages.

The security forces of Algeria would not let the plane leave. However, when the terrorist group threatened to kill more passengers, the French Prime Minister convinced Algeria to let them fly to France. Once the plane was at Marseilles, French negotiators started negotiating with them.

It was a little after 5pm on December 26, 1994, that three teams of eight men stormed the plane and the terrorists barricaded themselves in the cock pit with the pilot and a stewardess. Snipers opened fire and killed all the terrorists while the stewardess and pilot remained unharmed. The four hijackers were killed and three hostages had been executed. Yet, 175 passengers were saved by the GIGN.

"S'engager Pour La Vie"

This group has a cult-like affinity as they operate in secret for security purposes. They are not allowed to have their faces photographed in public and not much is known about them and the extensive training that they go through.

They have had the motto "S'engager pour la vie" or "To enlist for life" since 2014. Before then, it was "Sauver des vies au mepris de la sienne" or "To save lives without regard to one's own".

Women are allowed to serve in the GIGN except for the Intervention Group. The group has been around for a long time and has earned a reputation as being one of the best in the world. As we progress in our modern times and in geopolitical affairs, it is important to know of their existence and role in fighting crime and terrorism.

The emblem of the G.I.G.N.

The emblem of the G.I.G.N.

How Much Do You Know?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What is the name of the French Special Forces?
    • group d'international lu Gendarmerie
    • d'intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale
    • d'intervention national l'group
    • Gendamerie group d'intervention
  2. How many people have they lost in training?
    • 10
    • 2
    • 7
  3. How many people have they los tin active duty?
    • 2
    • 5
    • 7
  4. What is the weapon of choice for the G.I.G.N.?
    • MP5 sub machine gun
    • BREN 2 rifle
    • the Hectate II sniper rifle
    • MR73 Double-Action Revolver
  5. The only Division of the G.I.G.N. women are not allowed to serve in is what?
    • Operational Support Forces
    • Intervention Force
    • Security and Protection Force
    • Training Force
  6. When did the hijacking of a French Plane by a terrorist group occur?
    • October 12, 2001
    • December 24, 1994
    • November 5, 1998
    • January 7, 2007

Answer Key

  1. d'intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale
  2. 7
  3. 2
  4. MR73 Double-Action Revolver
  5. Intervention Force
  6. December 24, 1994


Documentary (in French)

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.