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Euro Counter-Terrorism

From Munich to today’s headline news, these teams prompted a revolution in counter-terrorism response.

April 01, 2001  |  by Eitan Meyr

New designs are constantly tested by CT units and among the more promising are the Austrian Steyr TMP and the Belgian FN P90, especially suitable for close range work.

Semi-auto pistols are the secondary side arms carried by all members of the combat team. In certain scenarios, when one-handed firing might be needed (clearing rooms, storming an aircraft, climbing and rappelling) the pistol becomes the primary weapon of choice.

Through the years, most of the units have switched from revolvers to semi-autos, mainly due to their high-capacity magazines, positive safeties and DA carry mode. However, some of them, notably the French "GIGN", still consider the powerful .357 Magnum revolver the best choice.

For many years, the 9mm Browning "High-Power" was at the forefront among CT units due to its splendid design and reliability, but currently it is gradually being replaced by more modern designs like the SIG 226, the Glock family and the Beretta 92 series.

Sniper-rifles are one of the most important elements in any CT unit's arsenal. Long-range firing capability is considered vital to the successful suppression of hostage-takers and, accordingly, units are equipped with the best hardware of the day.

Because poor sniper shooting during the Munich incident triggered the massacre of the hostages, German manufacturers were quick to study the lessons and produced two of the best rifles - the Mauser 66 and the H&K PSG1 in 7.62mm, that dominated CT scenery for a long time. Equipped with advanced optical sights, infra-red sights and light intensifiers, these rifles were used extensively during the following years by many units.

Among the other prominent models in use, it is worth noting the French FR-F2, the Austrian Steyr SSG and the new family of heavy rifles in .50 caliber, of which the Barrett, adopted by Italian units, is the best known.

Fighting shotguns have been used by many CT units as close-assault weapons deployed in the final phase of an attack. The two most important types in use are the pump-action gun, whose best representative is the Remington M870, and the semi-automatic, exemplified by the Italian Franchi SPAS-15 or Benelli.

Being able to fire different types of ammo, shotguns were found to be very effective during house-storming incidents when used at contact-distance against locks, bolts and hinges, defeating them instantly.

Besides weaponry, police CT units are also lavishly equipped with specialized hardware and electronic gadgetry. Normally the list includes ballistic helmets, protective vests, gas masks, advanced communication systems, CS and Stun grenades, explosives and breaching devices as well as night vision equipment and voice monitoring instruments.

Most of the police units also have at their disposal specially converted and equipped cars (like the Mercedes limousines or the Range-Rovers), motorcycles, Jeeps and armored special operations vehicles.

Operational Deployment

Throughout the three decades that followed the Munich massacre, police CT units around the world were called to intervene in different types of terrorist incidents. Whenever good intelligence and sound operational planning were combined with thorough training and adequate weaponry (and also a bit of luck) - incidents were mostly resolved successfully. The following review lists some of the spectacular events:

February '76, Djibouti - French "GIGN" rescued 30 children after 24 hours of  captivity on a bus near the Somali border.
October '77, Mogadishu - German "GSG9" rescued 86 passengers and 4 crew members of a "Lufthansa" airliner hijacked to Somalia.
May '81, Barcelona - Spanish "GEO" rescued 200 bank employees and  customers after 48 hours of captivity, following a bank seizure by armed  gunmen.
January '82, Padua - Italian "NOCS" rescued General James Dozier after a long period of captivity in a "Red Brigades" hideout, following his abduction in Verona in December '81.
September '87, The Mediterranean -American "HRT" unit arrested Fawas Younis on a yacht in international waters, following a two year investigation of his involvement in an airliner hijacking in 1985.
March '88, Aroer Janction - Israeli "YAMAM" rescued six passengers after several hours of captivity, following a bus seizure by three terrorists on the road from Be'er Sheba to Dimona.
December '94, Marseilles - French "GIGN" rescued all passengers and crew members of an "Air France" Airbus hijacked by Algerian terrorists.


Police CT units are extremely important elements in the fight against terrorism. In many cases they are the last-ditch defense. When all other measures fail, they are called in to handle the worst-case scenarios, in which lives are threatened in real time. Periods of relative tranquility tend sometimes to create the impression that these units are more of a burden than an asset. This is a dangerous illusion. The best human and material resources should be allocated to them. To support any other policy is to play with fire.

Eitan Meyr is a former assistant to the Counter-Terrorism Advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister. His main fields of expertise are Counter-Terrorist and Hostage-Rescue Units. He holds an M.A. degree in Criminology and B.A. degrees in Military History and Political Sociology. He is now reading for a Ph.D. degree. Mr. Meyr is currently engaged in several security projects in the private sector and writes for POLICE from Israel.

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