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INTERVIEW Terror threat: German special forces unit 'permanently on the ball' By Nico Pointner, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
The special German police unit GSG9 became famous in the 1970s with its spectacular freeing of an aeroplane hijacked by terrorists and flown to Mogadishu. Now, Islamist terrorism poses new challenges to the elite unit.

Berlin (dpa) - It gets called on when things are really dangerous, when criminals threaten to use weapons and bombs, when the lives of hostages are at stake: the GSG9 special forces unit of the German federal police.

In 1977, it was the GSG9 that stormed a Lufthansa passenger plane at Mogadishu airport that had been seized by Palestinian terrorists and freed all the hostages - mostly German tourists - unharmed.

In times of Islamist terrorism, the elite unit must now change, become more mobile and flexible. In addition to its headquarters in Sankt Augustin near Bonn, the GSG9 is getting a second site near Berlin in order to be able to respond more quickly to any threats.

Jerome Fuchs, commander of the GSG9, talked to dpa about the old and new challenges.

dpa: For decades, the GSG9 had to deal with hostage-takers and "conventional" serious criminals. Is it geared to dealing with Islamist terrorism?

A: Naturally we are ready to meet this challenge and do our best. We have to be permanently on the ball and exchange information with other units that have mastered comparable situations and learn from their experience. I would never say that we are now at 100 per cent. But we are doing our utmost to be prepared for these situations.

dpa: Would the GSG9 have been able to prevent worse from happening in the attack on Breitscheidplatz [the lorry attack on a Christmas market in December 2016] in Berlin - saving civilians, nabbing the attacker?

A: With certainty we would have had some possibilities if we could have been at the place on time, possibilities that would go beyond those of a regular police officer on the beat confronted with this situation. There is no question of this. But whether we could have prevented it is pure speculation and would be entirely inappropriate here.

dpa: You want to boost your force by a third. Why is it so difficult to find new trainees?

A: On the one hand, we do not wish to lower our requirements. This means that we have our standards which the applicants must meet. On the other hand there are, inside the federal police, endlessly many interesting fields. If someone wants to do something special, then nowadays there are other possibilities than was perhaps the case 10 or 15 years ago. So there is a bit of competition in our own house for the best applicants.

dpa: Terrorism knows no boundaries. Can a national special unit deal with it all by itself?

A: Certainly there are limits. But it is for this reason that GSG9 is very well linked up internationally. For one, there is the so-called Atlas Network [cooperation among special units in the European Union], and beyond that we cooperate with the world‘s best special units, for example with US units and the special police from Israel. In this regard we consider it a task held in common.

dpa: Why aren‘t there any women in the GSG9?

A: We do have women, however not in the immediate operational area of the units. The physical demands on women are the same for the men. But in the last few years we have also not had any women applying to join the GSG9.

About Jerome Fuchs: He rarely appears in public, given the secretiveness surrounding the GSG9. He is from the south-western city of Karlsruhe and has been with the GSG9 for more than 20 years. He became commander in 2014.


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