This article was originally posted on January 9, 2015. After spending all day Friday glued to the news feeds, I feel it's appropriate to re-post it now.
The Coat of Arms of the City of Paris contains the Latin phrase "Fluctuat nec mergitur". It means "She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink."
The Group D'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale is one of the world's oldest and most combat-experienced counter-terrorist organizations on earth. Trained with some of the most intense firearms qualifications this side of a Call of Duty weapon select screen, these ski-mask-wearing terrorist-annihilating police commandos are also the only CT force to carry motherfucking revolvers as their official sidearm, parachuting into combat situations or raiding terrorist-held container ships while packing a respectable-ass .357 magnum revolver that can rip off something like 200,000 rounds before needing to have its barrel switched out for a new one. Founded after the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972, GIGN operators have performed over a thousand operations in the last 43 years, have rescued over five hundred hostages, arrested a thousand suspects, and wiped the floor with more tangos than a dance instructor.
If you fuck with the people of France, these guys are going to find you. They'll hunt you down Wild West cowboy style, attack you from land, air, and sea, and they won't reset until they've Clint Eastwooded a magnum round into you and every person you've ever cared about.
GIGN, the Frenched-out way of saying "National Gendarmerie Intervention Group," is considered a gendarmerie, meaning that it's basically soldiers who are allowed to arrest you. The closest thing we have in the States is the Coast Guard, in that it's a military organization but they deal largely with policing American waters rather than leading attacks on enemy forces. They're like the SWAT team meets the Navy SEALs, and while their primary responsibility is counter-terrorism (performing everything from hostage negotiations to tactical assaults) they do a little bit of everything – they guard all of France's nuclear installations, they provide security when the Olympics are in town, and they go on insane HALO parachute night drops to extract hardened war criminals from downtown fucking Sarajevo.
Oh, and don't give me this shit where we talk about French cops having a "hard day at the office" when the café down the road only has two different scone options available and is full of cigarette-smoking mimes or whatever. France is one of the top countries for civilian gun ownership worldwide, has a homicide rate per capita that's better than Croatia, and pretty much every time the cops take down a Parisian street gang they seize a half-dozen Uzis and AK-47s. These dudes have no idea what they're rolling up on, and are prepped for anything, and are so goddamn hardcore with their weapons training that we send SEALs, Rangers, and SWAT guys over there to cross-train with their small arms and hand-to-hand combat experts.
Training for GIGN is some of the most intense in the world, rocking a washout rate of nearly 95%. Designed primarily to weed out non-insane people who don't have a death wish and an intense urge to put their life on the line for France, on like the first day of training they make you bungee jump off a bridge and then swim through a tunnel with your hands and feet bound. Later on you get to lay at the bottom of the Seine River in downtown Paris while barges pass just feet above your head, go one ten-mile runs in full kit, and spend a decent chunk of your afternoon undergoing grueling memorization and reasoning tests to gauge your intellectual badassitude. Then they take the guys who are left over and literally have them fight each other hand-to-hand to see who's the toughest and wash out the guys who can't hack it. If you pass all that and manage to make it through, GIGN training takes ten months and covers hostage negotiation, ship assault, high-altitude low-opening parachute drops, sniper marksmanship, desert ops, Krav Maga, combat skiing (yes, combat skiing), desert operations, rappelling, and how to disarm a shotgun-wielding terrorist with their bare hands. They also get more gun training than any other CT group in the world, since their organizational doctrine says that every guy in the unit should be able to not only use his own shit, but also how to disarm a motherfucker and kill him with his own gun.
The unit originally had 100 guys who could hit anywhere in the former French Colonial Empire at a moment's notice, though over the years it's been reorganized to include about 420 guys. They carry MP5s, HK assault rifles, SPAS full-auto twelve-gauge shotguns, and the type of French espirit d'corps and military elan that just screams "Fuck to death anyone who isn't French."
Their insanely-diverse skill set (kill, negotiate, capture, destroy, parachute into your house in the middle of the night and handcuff you like a dominatrix Santa Claus) means these guys get called on about sixty operations a year (more than once a week!), but for the most part these generally don't result in dead terrorists. But sometimes they do. Like, in 1976 some super-evil rebels in Djibouti hijacked a school bus with thirty French kids on it and threatened to kill everyone if France didn't release some imprisoned rebels or something, but France doesn’t fucking negotiate with terrorists and they had like four snipers simultaneously open fire on a school bus full of children and manage to only pick off the bad guys. GIGN dudes with Uzis stormed the school bus, killed the other dude, and freed all the kids.
A few years later, in 1979, like four hundred Saudi rebels celebrated Eid by taking over the Grand Mosque in Mecca during the Hajj, taking thousands of people hostage, and putting snipers in the minarets, so the Saudi government responded by bringing in GIGN guys to help figure out how to handle this shit. GIGN sent in three dudes who planned an assault, which was carried out by Saudi and Pakistani commandos (non-muslims aren't allowed into Mecca). They used knockout gas, flashbangs, and explosives, assaulted through the tunnels under the mosque, wiped out the terrorists, freed the surviving hostages, and then had 63 captured terrorist leaders publicly beheaded for their crimes.
In 1988 around thirty guys with machine guns in New Caledonia, a French-controlled island in the South Pacific, got all pissed off and took some local cops hostage, loaded them into a cave, and then positioned a heavy belt-fed machine gun at the entrance of the cave. The GIGN deployed halfway across the globe in a matter of hours, rappelled in by helicopter in broad daylight, cleared out the fucking machine gun with a goddamn flame thrower, shot up the place, freed the hostages, then allegedly executed a few of the wounded enemy ringleaders. GIGN lost two guys but killed 19 terrorists and took 11 more into custody.
Their most high-profile raid came in 1994, when terrorists armed with AK-47s, hand grenades and dynamite hijacked a passenger plane in Algiers and threatened to crash it into the Eiffel Tower. The French were able to force the plane down in Marseille, where GIGN rolled up in a damn stair car and stormed the cockpit, engaging assault-rifle toting psychos at point blank range with 220 civilian lives hanging in the balance. Final count – all terrorists dead. No civilian casualties. No GIGN fatalities.
Here's a good example of the GIGN being badass and going that extra mile to kick fucking ass just for the principle of it – in 2008 a group of Somali pirates took over a huge French luxury yacht and held the 30 crew members hostage. The owner of the insanely-big multi-billion dollar yacht paid a huge ransom, so the pirates let everyone go and went home with their cash. On their way back to their base, their car was shot to shit when a GIGN sniper fired a fucking Barrett M82 .50-caliber sniper rifle from a goddamn helicopter right through their engine block, then a team of commandos in ski masks went in, grabbed six pirates, and recovered the ransom money. Because fuck you guys.
So, when all that horrible shit went down earlier this week with gunmen shooting up newspaper offices in downtown Paris, you knew GIGN was the team that was going to be brought in to regulate. The details at this point are still really sketchy (it just went down a few hours ago), but my understanding of it at this point is that the four terrorists responsible for the attack were tracked down and cornered into two separate locations – a printing press northeast of Paris and a Jewish market in a different part of town – and both groups reacted by taking hostages and legitimately threatening to kill everyone and die a martyr's death in the process. Operating in two intense high-profile, very public hostage situations in two different parts of the city, GIGN flexed their Kevlar-plated nuts and stormed both terrorist strongholds almost simultaneously, killing three of the four terrorists without losing a man. Like I said, there isn't much available on this at the time of posting, but it's also hard to argue with this being one of the most badass fucking things I've ever seen.
Vive la France.