October the 17th, 1977, It is five minutes past midnight, Ulrich Wegener, known amongst the Germans as the “hero of Mogadishu” blew open the front door of the aircraft and launched a well-planned tubular assault of the hijacked Lufthansa flight 181 (Boeing 737–230 Adv) also known as “Landshut” which was on the Somalian tarmac, in the airport of Mogadishu. Seven minutes later, 86 hostages were rescued from their captors by West German GSG 9 commandos who engaged four operatives of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who called themselves “Commando Martyr Halime.” The objective of the hijacking was to secure the release of imprisoned Red Army Faction leaders. Operation Feuerzauber (German term for “Fire Magic”) was considered a remarkable success and an extremely important milestone for the young Grenzschutzgruppe 9, also known as GSG 9 – Germany finest counter terrorism unit.
Ulrich K. “Ricky” Wegener, the founding father of GSG 9 and a recipient of the German Commander’s Cross of the Federal Cross of Merit, has passed away at the age of 88, leaving behind him a family and legacy. Ulrich’s ability to contribute and develop GSG 9 as we know it today, started when he worked as a liason office of the Federal Border Protection for German Interior Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher at the time of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Ulrich, a colonel at that time watched the failed negotiations as all of the Israeli hostages were killed. Four of them were shot, then incinerated when one of the terrorists detonated a grenade inside the helicopter in which the hostages were sitting. The five remaining hostages were then machine-gunned to death.
The results which were both politically and militarily devastating led the Germans to re-examine the post WWII pacifist approach. This led the Germans to understand that their counter terrorism policies should be revisited. The outcome was immediate, and on the 17th of April 1973, GSG 9 was created. It is important to note that in that time, counter terrorism was relatively still a new term in most generals’ circles. The American Blue Light, the British SAS and the Israeli Sayeret Matkal were amongst the very few experienced counter terrorism units at the time.
Wegener, who was trained by Israelis, set later on two main principles for his unit. The unit should be unconventional, and the leadership should always come from the front rather than the back (a known Israeli approach named “Acharay” which is strongly embedded into most Israeli special forces officers). Years later in his book, Wegener wrote that he believed that the ability to be unconventional and lead from the front in irregular scenarios and on the ground led GSG 9 take its place amongst other CT units as a prime and very capable counter terrorism group.