Europe—Terrorists have simultaneously struck seven different places across Europe. What do you do?

That was the scenario for the ATLAS COMMON CHALLENGE 2018. Involving over 1,000 operators, this was Europe’s largest law enforcement SOF exercise to date. It took place 9-10 October.

Coordinated by the ATLAS network, which was launched after the 9/11 attacks to provide EU member states and close partners with a common response mechanism and to facilitate coordination and interoperability between police forces, and Europol. The exercise included 38 participant units, and the cream of the crop of Europe’s SOF units (GSG-9, RAID, EKAM, GIGN, etc).

There were seven different scenarios:

First, a maritime hostage rescue scenario in the Baltic Sea involved units from Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands. The operators performed a maritime and aerial assault on the moving vessel, taking down the terrorists and securing the hostages.

Second, an airplane hijacking in Spain. Operators from Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, and Portugal coordinated the assault and successfully took down the target. The units also tested novel breaching procedures developed to gain faster entry into the target.

Third, a subway hostage situation. Terrorists had seized a metro train in Warsaw with over 500 people. Units from Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia performed a quite elaborate assault and managed to free the hostages—certainly one of the trickiest scenarios.

Fourth, a mass-hostage scenario in Slovakia. The situation resembled the 2015 Paris attacks. Operators from Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and the Czech Republic conducted a simultaneous assault on a building complex were terrorists had confined hundreds of hostages. The attack involved helicopters, armoured vehicles and even parachutists.

Fifth, a land and maritime scenario. Terrorists took hostages in Iceland and fled toward Northern Ireland. Operators from Iceland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and England performed a cross-border operation that involved a vessel interdiction, and neutralised the threat.

Sixth, a train hijacking with a possible CBRN threat. Units from Germany, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, and Italy mounted an assault in a potentially radioactive environment. Specialists in CBRN warfare from the French anti-terrorist RAID unit showcased their expertise.


And last, a bus hostage scenario that spanned three countries. Terrorists stormed a bus in northern Greece and intended to drive it to Ukraine. Operators from Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, and Greece ensured that they failed. The units mounted an elaborate assault and freed the hostages.

Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said, “I am very pleased to open a new chapter of cooperation between Europol and the Special Intervention Units of the EU Member States gathered in the ATLAS Network. . . One important element we are pleased to see is the facilitation of cross-border deployment of Special Intervention Units.”