On the evening of December 17, 1996, over five hundred of Peru's senior diplomats, military officers, and government officials got together at the Japanese Ambassador's lavish residence in Lima to play Twister, drink pisco sours and shotgun cans of cheap sake in celebration of the Japanese Emperor Akihito's 63rd birthday. They were expecting to get tore up, hit on some cute chicks, maybe network with other senior VIPs and rap moguls or whatever, then go home and get their socks and ties together for work the next day. They weren't expecting to find themselves in the middle of a worldwide hostage crisis that would result in a badass special forces commando operation so flamingly over-the-top hardcore it would make Tom Clancy pop a boner strong enough to tear a hole in the hull of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.
Shortly after dark, just as the party was getting good, a well-trained, highly-efficient, ultra-ruthless group of 14 heavily-armed Peruvian terrorists scaled the walls surrounding the compound, snuck past the 50+ armed bodyguards stationed outside, evaded the 10+ security guys inside the building itself, and forced their way in, interrupting the phat beats and rousing dinner conversation with a few hundred staccato bursts of automatic weapons fire from their Kalashnikov AKM and AK-47 assault rifles. Everyone hit the deck, screaming for their lives while the terrorists rounded up all 500 guests, barricaded themselves inside the two-story residence building, and threatened to waste them all with hand grenades if they tried anything stupid. The Lima, Peru SWAT team rolled up on the scene but were driven back by a hail of automatic weapons fire that wounded a couple officers. When the SWAT guys tried to launch tear gas through the windows, the terrorists pulled out goddamned gas masks and kept firing. They'd brought plenty of ammunition with them, and they weren't afraid to use it.
Things just got real.
The next morning, the flag of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (which is acronym-ized MRTA because in Spanish you're allowed to move letters around however you want) was flying high above the Japanese Ambassador's residence, and the groups slogans were posted all around the exterior of the building. Now, Peru is no stranger to terrorist assclowns, and the MRTA wasn't just some hack-job puny little organization – these were hardened bastards with a big-time chip on their shoulder and no compunctions about hacking up civilians and cops with machetes and then booby-trapping their corpses with live grenades so they can blow up EMTs and paramedics and small woodland creatures. In the ten years prior to this event, this hardcore Marxist terror group had launched dozens of attacks against the government, police, and civilians, including one time in July 1985 when they assaulted 7 police stations in a single day and another time when they shot up a bunch of radio stations and forced them to play MRTA propaganda and previously-unreleased Tupac albums. They were ruthless, dedicated, and had exhibited exactly zero interest in showing mercy to anyone.
Their commander was Nestor Cerpa – a stone-cold asshole who six months earlier shot up a truck full of Peruvian soldiers, filled the truck up with dynamite, and then set it off in the center of the town of Chimbote – and when he got on the phone with the Peruvian government demanding the release of 170 incarcerated members of the MRTA and the Shining Path, everyone with two brain cells to rub together knew if the government didn't do something soon there would be lots and lots of dead hostages inside that building in a fairly short period of time.
Unfortunately for Cerpa, it turns out that Peru does not negotiate with terrorists. They send guys like this to rip them a new asshole:
The situation wasn't good. The residence was basically a fortress – a two-story stone structure with bomb-proof doors positioned strategically in the middle of a wide-open courtyard surrounded by a high wall. Even if you were able to get o team over the wall without being spotted by a guard (a very low-probability event), the MRTA set booby traps throughout the house and planted goddamned land mines in the courtyard. Any troops approaching the building from the ground would have to scale a wall, move through an open, land-mined killzone without any cover whatsoever, then find a way to actually enter the structure, and oh yeah they'd also have to do all that in about the time it takes a person to pull the pin on a hand grenade and throw it into a room full of hostages. Aerial insertion was impossible, since the terrorists would certainly open fire on the hostages at the first sound of military helicopters approaching.
So the Peruvian military command came up with a plan – they wouldn't do either. They'd tunnel underneath the structure and assault it up through the floor like the Locust in Gears of War.
Planning the mission would take time. The Peruvian government refused to release the terrorist prisoners, but they did humor Nestor Cerpa a little, carrying out half-assed negotiations over the course of the next four months that awesomely-enough convinced the MRTA to release all but 72 of their hostages. Meanwhile, Peru assembled 140 of their toughest warriors – they didn't have a dedicated counter-terrorism unit, so they instead hand-selected badasses from the National Police, SWAT, the Army, Navy and Air Force, taking guys who had cut their teeth fighting the Ecuadorians in the Cenepa War a year earlier. These men were moved to a secret military base, where they spent the four months training for this operation on a full-scale replica of the Japanese Ambassador's residence they'd constructed from scratch using blueprints and photographs. To get further intel, the Peru Intelligence Service snuck microphones and cameras into the building, concealing them in water bottles and board games to be handed out to the hostages. Since many of the hostages were high-ranking military generals and naval admirals, they knew exactly what was going on and positioned the stuff in places where it would do the most good. Furthermore, the Peruvians sent in intelligence officers disguised as news reporters to conduct fake interviews with the terrorists, using Cerpa's own vanity and narcissism to gain as much info as they could on what the hell was going down inside the crisis zone.
While all this was going on, miners and engineers from across Peru were brought in to dig nine lighted, ventilated, sound-proof tunnels underneath the grounds of the residency. The police blasted loud music and drove heavy trucks by to conceal the sound of the noise, but still Cerpa and the MRTA suspected nothing out of the ordinary. Nobody – from the international media covering the crisis to the terrorists inside the building – thought Peru had the balls to assault the residence.
Peruvian Commando training.
The plan was simple, if not completely insane – 70 cops and snipers would maintain a perimeter around the outside of the wall, while the other 70 commandos would go through nine tunnels and attack the building from different angles. A major hole would be blown through the floor of the living room, and that team would enter, clear the first floor, then move up. While all that was going on, a second team would come up through a different tunnel with a pair of ladders, enter the second floor windows in the rear of the building, and get to the hostages. Once the firing commenced, a third team would go over the wall and assault right through the front door, then help bring the hostages out of there. Orders were to shoot terrorists on sight. Get to the hostages before any of those terrorist Commie bastards can turn an AK-47 their direction.
On the night of April 21, 1996, three teams of Peruvian commandos sat in complete silence, painted their faces green and black, checked the magazines and silencers on their SMGs, strapped in their bullet-proof vests, and made their way into the tunnels. Their commander gave them one final order: It is strictly forbidden for you to die on me. You are going to be in serious trouble if you die on me.
|"I was sitting in the tunnel below the residence, with my gun, specially made for commandos. I had use it a lot of times in Cenepa. I called it "the mute". The silencer blocked any trace of noise. I was thinking there, thinking about what was about to happen. Within hours I will be able to confront the bastard that had taken to kill so many people. It enrages me when my country is violated like that. Witnesses to that are the more than 30 Ecuadorians that I killed in the Cenepa conflict. I couldn't sleep."
–Luis Mantilla, Peruvian Special Forces
Intel had informed the commandos that the terrorists were planning on playing a five-on-five soccer game in the gigantic living room of the residence around 3pm that day, and the mission was to take advantage of the fact that not even hardcore ultra-tense hostage crises can keep South American people from playing soccer. The commando teams got into position, set their plastic explosive charges, and patiently waited for the sound of a rubber ball being kicked around above their heads.
At 3:23pm on April 22, 1997, they got the go order.
The Peruvian commanders sent a message to the hostages via a transmitter they'd smuggled inside recommending that the hostages barricade themselves inside their room and prepare for some serious shit, and in broad daylight, in front of news crews from across the world, 70 Peruvian commandos launched an all-or-nothing balls-to-the-damn-wall assault on the terrorist compound.
"It was our job to give back order and peace to our country."
First, a massive explosion ripped a gimongous hole in the floor of the living room right in the middle of the terrorist soccer match, blasting the hell out of the room, showering it with shrapnel, and ripping four of the terrorists to pieces immediately. Hardcore scary-looking commandos raced up through the floor, guns blazing, while the surviving terrorists fled up the stairs to the second floor, spraying bullets wildly from their AK-47s while their asshole comrades fell in heaps around them.
Outside the building, several more holes opened up in the courtyard as teams raced into action, throwing ladders on the walls and climbing onto the roof and into the second story. One team managed to flank the fleeing terrorists as they ran the hell away from the psychotic machine gun-toting dudes climbing out of the damn floor, firing in through the window and capping a couple more as they ran towards the hostage room. These commandos breached the windows to enter, but were slowed down by a booby trapped explosive at the top of the stairs.
While all this was going on, another team went over the wall and charged straight-on into the compound. A guy with a heavy steel shield broke in the door and his team rushed in behind him, killing two female terrorists before they could swing their AKs around at them (the commandos catch some heat for killing these two, especially since one of these women was a teenage girl, but if running this site has taught me anything it's that a woman can squeeze a trigger or lob a grenade just as well as any man so I really don't see what the problem is here).
As the building was swarming with troops and explosions and gunfire were rocking the residence, there were still a group of unaccounted for terrorists rushing to kill the hostages. One team of commandos put an end to that quickly, blowing a hole through the roof and shooting down into the second floor hallway, killing the remainder of the terrorists, including the leader, as they ran to finish off the hostages. The other teams reached the hostages and escorted them safely from the building.
If you're interested, here's a link to the raw footage of the assault. It's pretty intense.
22 minutes after the first explosion, a team of Peruvian commandos pulled the MRTA flag down from the roof and set it on fire, ending the battle. Considering the extreme insanity and danger of the mission, a subterranean assault carried out in front of the world's news cameras in broad daylight against an entrenched enemy in a hostage situation, the results were staggering – all 14 terrorists lay dead, and 71 of the 72 hostages were saved (one died of a heart attack after being hit by a stray bullet). The commandos had sustained nine wounded, mostly from the explosions, and two dead – a Lieutenant who was caught in the crossfire and a Colonel who was mortally wounded shielding the Peruvian Chancellor from a terrorist grenade. Not bad, considering how catastrophically terrible this could have gone down.
The mission was declared an unqualified success by the Peruvian government. To this day April 22 is Peru's National Day of Military Valor.
"I was stunned. The President himself congratulating me.
'Thank you Mr. President. I did it for my country.
For peace and democracy... I did it for my beloved Peru.'"
As a weird footnote, it's worth mentioning that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights opened a ridiculous investigation as to whether or not the Peruvian commandos violated the human rights of the terrorists by shooting a couple of them who may or may not have been trying to surrender. Now, I support human rights as much as anyone, but I also kind of think that when you're taking hostages at gunpoint and opening fire on the cops with an assault rifle you kind of forfeit your right to not be shot in the face by badass fucking commandos coming up through the floor to kill you. But maybe that's just me.
After kicking the shit out of Kalashnikov-toting Marxist terrorist assholes,
Peruvian SF operators rock it like gangstas with with hot chocolates and keke sandwiches.
First-hand Account at MilitaryPhotos.net
Combs, Cindy C. and Martin Slann. Encyclopedia of Terrorism. Infobase, 2009.
Giampietri, Luis. 41 Seconds to Freedom. Ballantine, 2007.
Perez, Carlos. Anatomy of a Hostage Rescue. Naval Postgraduate School, 2004.