Berlin, Germany—The GSG 9 is expanding.
The elite counter-terrorism unit of the German federal police is looking to increase its numbers by a third.
“We’re talking about around a third of the current strength of the unit,” said GSG 9 commander Jérome Fuchs.
He did stress, however, that recruiting the right officers will be a challenge. But he’s adamant that the fitness and psychological standards will remain the same.
The Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (Border Protection Group 9), moreover, will be installing a second base in Berlin to be able to react faster in case of an attack in the German capital. The Berlin squad will be compromised of around 100 operators.
“If you look at comparable terrorist situations across Europe, then it was often capital cities that were affected. It is essential that we are better prepared in the capital. Our aim is clear: GSG 9 needs to be capable of quicker reactions in the capital,” added Fuchs.
Both GSG 9’s enlargement and the new base are happening in the wake of the recent terror events that have plagued Europe. Last year, the German law enforcement agencies investigated more than 900 terrorism-related cases; a 400% increase from 2016.
“According to the German security forces, the terrorist situation has not become less dangerous, despite the military defeat of ‘Islamic State’ — on the contrary, it could have become more dangerous,” said Rolf Tophoven, an expert on the GSG 9.
The previous week the unit raided an apartment complex in Berlin and apprehended a Chechen suspected of plotting a terrorist strike. A simultaneous operation in France resulted in another arrest.
The arrested Chechens appear to have had links with Anis Amri, who killed 12 people and injured another 60 when he drove a truck down a street packed with Christmas shoppers on 19 December 2016.
Furthermore, in response to the terror threat, the German federal police have established many local reserve units. These are meant to act as first responders in case of a terrorist attack until the elite GSG 9 arrive. They can also serve as quick-reaction-forces (QRF) if needed (much like the local FBI SWAT units would support the FBI HRT).
The GSG 9 focuses on hostage-rescue and violent-crime operations. Its status within the German federal police is strange: Although a law enforcement unit, its arsenal, which includes anything imaginable, and training, a 22-week suck-fest with an extremely high attrition rate, places it one step above the rest of the police force but one level below the military. A paramilitary unit would be the best way to describe it.
It’s a familiar training partner of the British Special Air Service (SAS), the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), and the US Army’s Delta Force. It also a member of the ATLAS network, an EU network of SOF law enforcement units created after 9/11 to increase cooperation and interoperability.
Officers aspiring to join the 400-strong unit must be able to run 3 miles in less than 23 minutes, sprint 100 meters in under 13.4 seconds, and bench press 75% of their body weight. Applicants must already be police officers, ideally with active experience.
The unit was created in 1972 in response to the Munich Olympics terror attack when Black September, a Palestinian terror group, kidnapped and murdered 11 Israeli athletes. It’s headquartered in Sankt Augustin, close to Bonn, West Germany’s old capital. Their formation sparked controversy for it was seen by some an attempt to recreate the Nazi-era SS.
GSG 9 operators can be used both domestically and internationally. In 1977, for example, the GSG-9 performed a paragon counter-terrorism operation when they rescued eighty Lufthansa 181 passengers taken by the PFLP, a Palestinian terrorist group, in Mogadishu, Somalia.
The GSG 9 has conducted close to 2,000 operations since its birth, averaging fifty per year.