A GSG 9 exercise in 2005
West German counterterrorism group. Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (GSG-9) was formed in reaction to the killing of eleven Israeli athletes by Black September terrorists during the 1972 Munich Olympics. The German handling of the situation drove home the point that the Federal Republic needed an organization specifically trained for counterterrorism and hostage rescue. One of the reasons the German government decided to make such an organization a police rather than a military unit was to avoid potential charges of creating a new version of the dreaded SS of the Third Reich.
Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the then minister of the interior, was given permission to form the new unit as the ninth group of the paramilitary Bundesgrenzschutz (BGS), the Federal Border Police. GSG-9’s first commander was Police Colonel Ulrich Wegener, who immediately formed close ties with the leading counterterrorist organizations of major Western Nations, including the British Special Air Service (SAS) and the U. S. Army’s Delta Force. Wegener, in fact, reportedly accompanied Israeli commandos on their rescue mission at Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976 to rescue hostages who had been hijacked by Arab terrorists.
GSG-9 came to the attention of the world on October 17, 1977, when a twenty-nine man team successfully stormed a hijacked Lufthansa airliner at Mogadishu, Somalia. During the rescue three of the ninety hostages were wounded, but none seriously; three of the four terrorists were killed, and the fourth seriously wounded. GSG-9 has carried out other missions since, most of which have been so successful that the general public never learned about them.
With an authorized strength of 188, GSG-9 originally was organized into three strike units, supported by a communications and intelligence unit, an engineer unit, a weapons unit, a research and equipment unit, a maintenance and supply unit, and a training unit. In 1983 a fourth strike unit was added. Each strike unit consists of 30 to 42 commandos, further organized into 5-man teams. GSG-9’s intelligence support is provided by a sophisticated antiterrorist computer system located in Wiesbaden. In 1979 GSG-9’s strength was increased to 219. In 1981 Wegener was promoted to the rank of police brigadier general and assumed command of BGS West.
Recruiting for GSG-9 is highly selective, and the training program is demanding. Candidates must have several years of experience in the BGS with a good record. The initial screening process, which includes intelligence and psychological evaluations, eliminates approximately two-thirds of applicants. Another 10 percent fail to make it through the five-month basic training phase, which heavily stresses individual skills such as marksmanship and the martial arts. The three-month secondary training phase focuses on teamwork and assault tactics.
In July 1993, GSG-9 came under severe criticism and scrutiny for mishandling the arrest of two Red Army Faction terrorists at a train station in eastern Germany. During the ensuing shoot-out, one GSG-9 officer died. Wolfgang Grams, one of the suspected terrorists, also died from a gunshot wound to the head at point-blank range. Much of the evidence at the time seemed to suggest that Grams was summarily executed after being subdued by GSG-9 officers. Grams’s death was later ruled a suicide and the officers involved were never charged. The incident, however, cast a long shadow over GSG-9.
In August 1993, GSG-9 successfully ended the hijacking of a Dutch KLM airliner that had been diverted to Düsseldorf. Normally this type of operation would have been handled in a low-key manner. Its wide play in the press may have been part of a campaign to restore GSG-9’s image in the wake of the Grams incident.