Groupe d'intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale (French)

Official GIGN insignia
Active 1974–present
Country  France
Branch National Gendarmerie
Type Law enforcement
Special operations
Role Counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, national security, intelligence gathering
  • c. 380 operatives
Garrison/HQ Satory, Yvelines, France
Motto(s) S'engager pour la vie[1]
("To enlist for life").
Decorations Croix de la Valeur Militaire
Général de Brigade Hubert Bonneau

Groupe d'intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale ("National Gendarmerie Intervention Group"), commonly abbreviated GIGN ( pronunciation ), is the elite law enforcement and special operations unit of the French National Gendarmerie. Its missions include counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, surveillance of national threats, protection of government officials, and targeting organized crime.[2]

GIGN was established in 1974 following the Munich massacre. Created initially as a relatively small SWAT unit specialized in sensitive hostage situations, it has since grown into a larger and more diversified force of nearly 400 members,[3] with expanded responsibilities. GIGN shares jurisdiction of French territory with the National Police special-response units.[4]

GIGN is headquartered in Versailles-Satory near Paris. Although most operations take place in France, as a component of the French Armed Forces, the unit can operate anywhere in the world. Many of its missions are classified, and members are not allowed to be publicly photographed. Since its formation, GIGN has been involved in over 1,800 missions and rescued more than 600 hostages, making it one of the most experienced counter-terrorism units in the world.[1]

The unit came into prominence following its successful assault on a hijacked Air France flight at Marseille Marignane airport in December 1994.


GIGN operators
GIGN operators in training

GIGN was formed in 1973 in the wake of the Munich massacre and other less well known events in France. It became operational in March 1974, under the command of then-lieutenant Christian Prouteau and performed its first mission ten days later. Another unit was created simultaneously within the Gendarmerie parachute squadron in Mont-de-Marsan in southwest France but the two units were merged under Prouteau's command in 1976. GIGNs initial complement was 15, later increased to 32 in 1976, 78 by 1986, and 120 by 2005.[5]

In 1984, it became the SWAT branch of a larger organisation called GSIGN (French: Groupement de sécurité et d'intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale), together with EPIGN (French: Escadron Parachutiste d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale), the Gendarmerie Parachute Squadron,[6] GSPR (French: Groupe de sécurité de la présidence de la République), the Presidential Security group and GISA (French: groupe d'instruction et de sécurité des activités), a specialized training center.

On 1 September 2007, a major reorganization took place. In effect, GSIGN was renamed GIGN and its former components (the original GIGN, EPIGN, GSPR and GISA) became "forces" of the new GIGN which now reached a total complement of 380 operators.

More than a simple name swap, the new organization aimed at:

In 2009, the Gendarmerie, while remaining part of the French Armed Forces, was attached to the Ministry of the interior, which already supervised the National Police. The respective areas of responsibility of each force did not change however as Police already had primary responsibility for major cities and large urban areas while the Gendarmerie was in charge of smaller towns, rural areas as well as specific military missions. Under the new command structure, GIGN gendarmes can still be engaged in military operations outside of France due to their military status.

Coordination between GIGN and RAID, the national police elite team, is handled by a joint organization called Ucofi (French: Unité de coordination des forces d’intervention). A "leader/follower" protocol has been established for use when both units need to be engaged jointly,[7] leadership belonging to the unit operating in its primary areas of responsibility.[8]

Since its creation, the group has taken part in over 1800 operations, liberated over 600 hostages and arrested over 1500 suspects,[1] losing two members killed in action and seven in training. The two fatalities in action were sustained when dealing with armed deranged persons.


GIGN operators in training


GIGN assault column training
GIGN Sherpa assault truck in 2016

GIGN is currently organized in six "forces", under two headquarters (administrative and operational):[9]

Female gendarmes are admitted in all forces, except the intervention force.

There are several tactical specialities in the group, including: Long-range sniping, breaching, observation and reconnaissance, executive protection, free fall parachuting with HALO/HAHO (high altitude low/high opening) jumps, diving, etc.

Helicopter support is provided by Gendarmerie helicopters and, for tactical deployment of large groups, by GIH ((French: Groupe interarmées d'hélicoptères) a joint army/air force special operations flight equipped with SA330 PUMA helicopters based in nearby Villacoublay air base. GIH was established in 2006 and has also been tasked to support the National Police RAID unit since 2008.

Thirteen regional units called "GIGN branches" (French: Antennes GIGN),[10] manned by personnel selected and trained by GIGN, complement its action in metropolitan France and in the French overseas departments and territories. The domestic units, initially known as PI2Gs (French: Pelotons d'intervention interrégionaux de la Gendarmerie) have been redesignated as GIGN branches in April 2016; the overseas units initially known as GPIs (French: Groupes de pelotons d'intervention) were in turn redesignated as GIGN branches on 26 July 2016.[11] As of 2016, the six metropolitan GIGN branches are located in Dijon, Nantes, Orange, Reims, Toulouse and Tours while the seven overseas branches are based in Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Réunion, Mayotte, French Polynesia and New Caledonia. The twenty nuclear protection units called PSPGs (French: Pelotons spécialisés de protection de la Gendarmerie), located on site at each one of the French nuclear power plants, are not a part of GIGN but operate under its supervision.


Boarding of the Pascal Paoli by the GIGN, on 28 September 2005. The ship had been occupied by the Corsican trade union STC.

GIGN reports directly to the Director general of the Gendarmerie Nationale (DGGN) i.e. the chief of staff of the Gendarmerie [12] who in turn reports directly to the Ministry of the interior. The DGGN can take charge in a major crisis; however, most of the day-to-day missions are conducted in support of local units of the Departmental Gendarmerie. GIGN is also a member of the European ATLAS Network, an informal association consisting of the special police units of the 28 states of the European Union.

Some of the best known GIGN operations include:

Helicopter demo using ESCAPE, a device designed by the group

The GIGN was selected by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to teach the special forces of the other member states in hostage-rescue exercises aboard planes.

Selection and training

GIGN operators

Candidates undertake a one-week pre-selection screening followed, for those accepted, by a fourteen months training program which includes shooting, long-range marksmanship (it is often considered as one of the best shooting schools in the world), an airborne course and hand-to-hand combat training.[1] Mental ability and self-control are important in addition to physical strength. Like for most special forces, the training is stressful with a high washout rate, especially in the initial phase – only 7–8% of volunteers make it through the training process.

Motto and values

Although the GIGN is part of the French military and has been deployed to external combat zones, it is primarily centered in France, engaging in peacetime operations as a special police force. Respect of human life and fire discipline have always been taught to group members since inception, and each new member is traditionally issued with a 6 shot .357 revolver as a reminder of these values.[1]

GIGN leaders


A French member of the Rainbow Six squad is mentioned as having a GIGN background in Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six. (1998, Rubicon Inc., Suom. Iskuryhmä Rainbow ISBN 951-0-23805-8)


GIGN is featured in L'Assaut, a 2010 French film about the Air France Flight 8969 hijacking. It was done with the collaboration and the advice of the GIGN.

L'Ordre et la Morale (Rebellion) was released in 2011 and is about the controversial 1988 Ouvéa cave hostage taking in New Caledonia as seen from the perspective of then GIGN leader Captain Philippe Legorjus. Even though he had played a major role in the negotiations, Legorgus's leadership during and after the action was contested even in his own unit and he left GIGN a few months later.

In Michael Bay's The Island, Djimon Hounsou plays Albert Laurent, a French private military contractor and GIGN veteran hired to bring back Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson).

Video games

GIGN members are present in several video games such as Hostages, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Lockdown, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege, Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Hitman: Contracts, Battlefield 3, Modern War, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. GIGN uniforms are available in the games Counter-Strike and SWAT 4. Players can also choose their avatar on the Xbox 360 gaming platform to have the GIGN special ops costume, from the Modern Warfare 3 Avatar content pack on the avatar storefront. It is labeled as French Special Ops costume, but is the GIGN Special Ops uniform in reality.

See also




  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Gend'info magazine (Official Gendarmerie information magazine in French). GIGNs 40th anniversary issue. December 2014.
  2. Peachy, Paul. "Who are GIGN? Elite police force formed after 1972 Olympics attack on Israelis". The Independent. The Independent. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  3. circa 570 with the regional branches.
  4. Each of the two French national police forces, the National Police and the National Gendarmerie has primary responsibility for a part of the territory: large cities and urban areas for the National Police, smaller cities and rural areas for the National Gendarmerie. There are two National Police units specialized in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue: the Paris Research and Intervention Brigade and RAID. Together they form a task force called National Police Intervention Force (French: Force d'intervention de la Police nationale or FIPN). GIGN and FIPN (or its components) can be engaged together – or in the other force's area of responsibility – in an emergency.
  5. Encyclopédie de la Gendarmerie Nationale, tome III
  6. Squadron in the British sense of the term. The equivalent US unit would be a troop or a company.
  7. As was the case following the January 2015 "Charlie Hebdo" assassinations.
  8. « Colonel Bonneau interview, L’Essor de la Gendarmerie nationale n°478 – February 2015 issue.
  9. Le GIGN par le GIGN (in French), 2012 p. 9
  10. Ministère de l'Intérieur press release, 19 April 2016.
  11. Gendarmerie memorandum 61050 dated 26 July 2016.
  12. The current DGGN is general Denis Favier, who twice led GIGN. He personnally led the Marignane assault in 1994 and conducted the reorganization of 2007.


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