The ATLAS Network – European Special Intervention Units Combating Terrorism and Violent Crime

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The ATLAS Network is the European answer to violent crime and terroristic threat. 38 Police Special Intervention Units (SIU) of altogether 31 countries belong to this Union that was founded in 2001 under the motto “All together to protect you”. On the one hand, this book gives an exclusive overview about ATLAS Network, its history, organisation, and activities. On the other hand, all units are introduced in detail, from their beginnings until today, and with insights into their training, materials, and their most spectacular operations. Numerous, mostly unpublished photos offer authentic and fascinating views at the experts combating terrorism. The high-qualitative and large format presentation is similar to an illustrated book and brings to bear the special pictures. With support of ATLAS, all Special Forces and Europol, a unique non-fiction book with first-hand information arose, which keeps in mind this European story of success in the fight against criminal and terroristic actions.

ISBN 978-3-96461-044-7


European Special Intervention Units combating terrorism and violent crime


European Special Intervention Units combating terrorism and violent crime

Remarks by the Publisher Author and publisher have taken the utmost care of information on guidelines, ordinances and recommondations. They accept no liability for inadvertently incorrect information. Due to constant changes of legal foundations and scientific recommondations the reader is requested to check the currently valid guidelines and literature and to behave accordingly. The information of trade names, product descriptions etc. without the special labelling ®/™/© does not mean that this information is to be regarded as free within the meaning of the legislature and can be used accordingly. The text and/or the bibliography contain links to external websites, the publisher has no influence on their content. Therefore, he cannot accept any liability for this third-party content. The respective provider or operator of the site is always responsible for the content of the linked sites. For reasons of readability, the masculine language form has mostly been chosen in this book. However, all personal statements always apply equally to people of any gender. Bibliographic information by the German National Library The German National Library lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the internet at All rights reserved, in particular those of translation, reprinting, and the extraction of images or parts of text. Storage in electronic systems, radio transmission, duplication in any form require the written consent of the authors and the publisher. Even reproduction in excerpts only with express permission.

© Copyright by Verlagsgesellschaft Stumpf + Kossendey mbH, Edewecht, 2021 Book set: Bürger Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Edewecht Cover images: BOA (Poland), RAID (France), TEK (Hungary); back: IE (Switzerland) Print: mediaprint solutions GmbH, 33100 Paderborn (Germany) ISBN 978-3-96461-044-7



European Special Intervention Units combating terrorism and violent crime Tr a n s l a t i o n J u s t i n B e n d e r


Content Prefaces and Greetings The ATLAS Network

7 11

– From the foundation until today


– Legal foundations


– Organisational structure of the ATLAS Network


ATLAS Expert Groups and Forums


– Expert Group “Building”


– Expert Group “Naval”


– Expert Group “Aircraft”


– Expert Group “Transport”


– Forum “C4”


– Forum “MEDIC” (Tactical Medicine)


– Forum “NEGO” (Negotiation)


– Forum “SNIPER” (Sniping)


– Forum “ENTRY” (Breaching Techniques)


– Forum “Innovation S.T.A.R.”


– Forum “Rapid Response”


Cooperation between ATLAS and Europol ATLAS Exercises Weaponry and means of transport

53 55 61

– Weaponry


– Means of transport


Interview with Dominique Soffers 4

The units in portrait


75 COBRA – Einsatzkommando BELGIUM 89 DSU – Directie van de speciale eenheden / Direction des Unités Spéciales BULGARIA 99 S.O.B.T. – Spetsializiran otryad za borba s terorizma CROATIA 107 ATJ LUČKO – Antiteroristička jedinica Lučko CYPRUS 113 E.R.U.  – Emergency Rescue Unit


M.M.A.D. – Mechanokíniti Monáda Ámesis Drasis

123 URNA – Útvar rychlého nasazení DENMARK 131 AKS – Aktionsstyrken ESTONIA 139 K-komando FINLAND 147 KARHU – Poliisin Valmiusyksikkö FRANCE 153 GIGN – Groupe d‘Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale 165 RAID – Recherche, Assistance, ­Intervention, Dissuasion GERMANY 173 GSG 9 der Bundespolizei 183 SEK BW – Spezialeinsatzkommando Baden-Württemberg GREAT BRITAIN 191 SCO 19 – Specialist Crime and Operations GREECE 199 E.K.A.M. – Eidiki Katastaltiki Antitromokratiki Monada HUNGARY 207 TEK – Terrorelhárítási Központ ICELAND 217 VIKING – Sérsveit ríkislögreglustjóra IRELAND 225 ERU – Garda Emergency Response Unit



231 GIS – Gruppo Intervento Speciale 243 NOCS – Nucleo Operativo Centrale di Sicurezza LATVIA 253 OMEGA – Pretterorisma vienība LITHUANIA 259 ARAS – Lietuvos Policijos Antiteroristinių Operacijų Rinktinė LUXEMBOURG 265 USP – Unité Spéciale de la Police MALTA 273 SIU – Special Intervention Unit NETHERLANDS 281 DSI – Dienst Speciale Interventies NORTHERN IRELAND 289 HMSU – Headquarters Mobile Support Unit NORWAY 295 DELTA – Beredskapstroppen POLAND 301 BOA – Centralny Pododdział Kontrterrorystyczny Policji PORTUGAL 311 GIOE – Grupo de Intervenção de Operações Especiais 321 GOE – Grupo de Operações Especiais ROMANIA 329 B.S.I.J. – Brigada Speciala de Interventie a Jandarmeriei 339 SIAS – Serviciul Independent pentru Intervenții și Acțiuni ­Speciale SLOVAKIA 345 LYNX Commando – Útvar Osobitného Určenia (ÚOU) SLOVENIA 353 RED PANTHERS – Specialna Enota Policije SPAIN 359 G.E.O. – Grupo Especial de Operaciones 369 UEI – Unidad Especial de Intervención SWEDEN 377 NI – Nationella Insatsstyrkan SWITZERLAND 385 IE – Interventionseinheiten




Abbreviations 394 Literature 397 About the author


Photo credits



Prefaces and Greetings


Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends of European Special Intervention Units,

Ministerial Councillor Bernhard Treibenreif, B.A., M.A. ATLAS President Special Unit Task Force Cobra/Directorate for Special Forces (DSE)

since September 11, 2001, 20 years passed. On that day, several thousand people in the USA died because of simultaneously committed unimaginable brutal terror attacks. The terrible pictures went around the world. This event did not leave Europe unscathed either – a few days later, as a first response the Council of European Ministers of the Interior ordered the Belgian EU Council Presidency to increase the cooperation of European counter-terrorism units as quickly as possible. Shortly after the attack, we – the commanders of all EU counter-terrorism units – met under the Chairman of the Belgian special unit DSU and founded the so-called ATLAS Network. This is the close cooperation network of the meanwhile 38 special police forces of the 27 EU member states, the United Kingdom and the associated countries (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland). After years during which Belgium held the chairman­ ship and Austria provided the vice chairman, the ATLAS Presidency was taken by the Netherlands, Germany and in 2017 by Austria.

Since then, a lot has happened: From its beginning ATLAS has developed constantly – in fact, with full support of all units because every commander knew that this EU-wide cooperation could und will lead at any time to incidents requiring cross-border cooperation. Many examples of cross-border special operations show this to be true. Unfortunately, even Europe was not spared from serious attacks, for example in Mad-

rid in 2003, in London in 2005, in Paris in 2015 – to name just a few. Three EU Council decisions, achieved under Estonian and Austrian chairmanship, created the legal regulations to anchor the ATLAS Network on a European level and to strengthen the network, in particular with a cooperation to Europol and a fixed annual EU-budget. This in turn enables the ATLAS units to carry out extensive activities, for example workshops, cross-border exercises or joint developments of operational techniques and tactics. Meanwhile, all over Europe joint training centres for special forces are set up and the standards for equipment and education of all units reached a compatible level. Still a lot of work needs to be done. But Special Intervention Units und their commanders all have the peculiar intention to pursue reasonable and important aims persistently and to finish projects successfully. Therefore, this common pathway of development will proceed. A fair bit of this common and successful pathway lies behind us – a long way of necessary further developments still lies before us. Following the guideline of ATLAS, “All together to protect you”, we will still undertake everything in our influence to protect the people in our European states as far as possible. Wiener Neustadt, May 2021


Prefaces and Greetings


Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Monique Pariat Director-General of the Directorate-General Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission


for many years, the European Union has been facing a high level of threats from organised crime and terrorist groups. The recent terrorist attacks highlight once more the importance of a rapid law enforcement response by police special intervention forces. We need to join forces across Europe to protect our citizens and cities. The ATLAS Network of the police Special Intervention Units (SIU) of the EU Member States as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and United Kingdom is a clear demonstration of the added value of EU cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism. The ATLAS cooperation is a key EU asset when it comes to minimising the damage of and responding to terrorist attacks and acts of serious crime through improved cooperation and enhancing skills of the police special intervention forces. By conducting trainings, seminars, and studies, developing specific materials, exchange of best practices and carrying out joint exercises, it has proven its ability. Upon request, Special Intervention Units can assist in another Member State in man-made crisis situations, presenting a serious direct physical threat to persons, property, infrastructure, or institutions, in particular hostage taking, hijacking and similar events. The benefit of ATLAS is recognised across Europe, as the network provides a unique EU tool to further improve law enforcement’s response to terrorism and serious crime, regardless of where such acts may take place with­­in Europe. Common platforms for training and tactics, shared equipment, and close cooperation in Member States’ trans-border areas greatly benefits public and individual security.

The European Commission has supported ATLAS for more than ten years, providing funding of up to € 1.5 m annually, as well as administrative and operational support. We strongly support the development of further training centres and the closer cooperation between Europol and ATLAS, and we are convinced that this will increase even further the importance of ATLAS. We can only encourage you to read this book about this European success story on operational cooperation in the field of internal security. Yours sincerely, Monique Pariat Director-General of the Directorate-General Migration and Home Affairs

Prefaces and Greetings


Catherine De Bolle Executive Director of Europol

Organised crime and terrorism remain key challenges to the internal security of the European Union. The Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) 2021 clearly demonstrates that the scale of the organised crime threat is daunting. The use of violence by criminals in the EU has increased in terms of frequency and severity. Terrorism is becoming ever more complex and multiform and continues to be a threat to our citizen’s lives and an attack on our shared European values and fundamental rights. This requires an effective law enforcement response through enhanced cross-border cooperation mobilising all the instruments at the disposal of EU Member States, including the availability of well-trained and EU-wide interoperable Special Intervention Units (SIU). ATLAS and Europol share a vision based on mutual trust, common operating procedures, and shared values. This is why in December 2017 the EU Council decided to strengthen the ATLAS Network through a more structured EU support. In 2018, Europol and the ATLAS Network – the cooperation platform of 38 Special Intervention Units of EU Member States, associated countries (Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland) and the United Kingdom – agreed to strengthen their common efforts in the fight against terrorism and serious and organised crime. Europol supports the ATLAS Network by providing secure communication platforms and tools, by supporting the financial management of ATLAS and by providing administrative and logistic support through an ATLAS Support Office at Europol. Above all, Europol aims at enhancing operational cooperation with the ATLAS Network and other law enforcement experts and first responders that may potentially be deployed alongside the SIU. The aim is

to make maximal use of the expertise, products, and services of Europol. Indeed, SIU may be called to intervene in a variety of situations, not necessarily only linked to terrorism. Joined up efforts between the ATLAS Network and Europol should help improving first response capacity at EU level, for terrorist attacks, rescue of hostages or other crisis situations. I am very pleased to contribute to this excellent publication, which describes how the women and men from the Special Intervention Units part of the ATLAS Network effectively contribute to the security of our European citizens. Europol remains fully committed to supporting the ATLAS Network as a key instrument to enhance preparedness for the response to terrorist attacks and serious crimes. Catherine De Bolle Executive Director of Europol


Prefaces and Greetings


Dear Readers,

Christoph Lippay


for a long time already, violent crime and terrorism don’t stop at national borders. Instead, cross-border criminal and terroristic organisations are an enormous potential of threat. With the ATLAS Network as a union of counter-terrorism and Special Intervention Units, Europe offers an effective and innovative response to this threat. The European counter-terrorism units have moved much closer together since ATLAS was founded in 2001, they exchange continuously, define common standards and train for joint operations. So, the Network fulfils its self-chosen motto “All together to protect you” day by day in many ways. Certainly, it can be spoken of a European success story, which is documented and made visible extensively in this book for the first time. It is in the nature of counter-terrorism units to act largely undetected and not to give any information that could offer tactical advantages to criminals or terrorists. Therefore, it is more remarkable that all 38 units of ATLAS willingly provided information for this book. They opened their doors and archives to provide exclusive insights into their organisation, activities, and individual characteristics, accompanied by many unpublished images from their everyday life. The content of the units’ portraits was checked by the respective units so that all information is authentic and verified. Without participation of all 38 units, the ATLAS Network itself as well as Europol this book would not have been possible. My heartfelt thanks therefore go to the commanders and ATLAS officers for their excellent support at all times. I would like to thank Mrs Monique Pariat, Director-General of the Department Migration and Home Affairs

of the European Commission, and Mrs Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director of Europol, very much for the benevolent support of this book project and the friendly greetings. I would particularly like to thank the following people, who gave me the idea for this book and who helped me with the implementation with words and deeds: Police director Dr. med. Renate Bohnen, Councilor Mag. Renate Lanzenbacher, Ministerial Councillor Bernhard Treibenreif B. A., M. A., Dominique Soffers, “Schlagi” and Damian I. My very special thanks go to Norbert Schweinberger for the great advice and help. “Last not least” I would like to thank my editor Dr. Robert Beyer for the absolutely professional processing and Dr. Justin Bender for his excellent English translation. This book is dedicated to all members of counter-terrorism units, who work every day with a high level of personal commitment and with the risk for life and health to ensure that the citizens of Europe can live safely and peace­fully. Christoph Lippay September 2021


ATLAS Network: From the foundation until today

ATLAS Network: From the foundation until today 1972: A massacre as a starting point The foundation of numerous special intervention units all over Europe to fight terrorism and violent crime can be mainly attributed to an event in September 1972: the massacre during the Olympic Games in Munich. That during the “Happy Games” (according to the International Olympic Committee) Israeli athletes on German soil fell victim to terrorists and in the end the failure of the German police was from a human and political point of view a catastrophe. To better understand the impact and consequences for counter terrorism over the following years, a reassessment of the attack about half a century ago is worthwhile. In the early morning of September 5, 1972, telecommunication engineers of the German Mail Service observed at about 04:10 how eight men climbed over the fence of the Olympic Village in Munich. At about 04:35 the eight men, who belonged to the Palestinian terror organisation “Black September”, reached the accommodation of the Israeli athletes in Connollystreet 31. When the terrorists used force to gain access some of the athletes and coaches realised immediately that there was a deadly threat and tried to stop the intruders at the front door. During this resis­tance Moshe Weinberg, coach of the Israeli wrestling team, was immediately shot and killed. The weightlifter Josef Romano suffered such severe injuries that he bled to death in the company of his comrades two hours later. Some athletes managed to flee in the ensuing chaos. They alerted the police while their nine comrades were tied up and taken hostage by the terrorists.

Nerve wrecking negotiations followed. Several ultimatums from the terrorists passed without consequences. The leader of the terrorists, who called himself “Issa” but whose real name was Luttif Afif, demanded the release of 232 Palestinians and a Japanese terrorist from Israeli prison as well as the release of the two members of the German Red Army Fraction (RAF) Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof who were imprisoned in Germany. The Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meïr categorically refused these demands. Israel would never negotiate with terrorists, said Golda Meïr. Several German politicians, among them the then Minister of the Interior Hans-Dietrich Genscher, offered themselves in exchange for the hostages, this was strongly rejected by the terrorists. The German government in turn refused the offer of the Israeli government to send a special unit to Munich to terminate the hostage taking. The German negotiators and the terrorists finally agreed in the early evening hours that the terrorists and their hostages should be flown out to the Egyptian capital Cairo. The nine Israeli athletes agreed to this as well. At 22:06 the eight terrorists together with their nine tied-up hostages entered a bus. The short drive took them to two waiting helicopters which had landed before on

the Olympic premises. About 15 minutes later both helicopters took off and flew to the nearby military airbase of Fürstenfeldbruck where the group should get on board a passenger plane and fly to Egypt. In reality, however, the police planned an operation to free the hostages. But even before the helicopters took off the security forces recognised a fatal error: when the terrorists moved from the bus to the helicopters the police saw for the first time that there were eight terrorists. Until then, they had reckoned with five. The intervention team waiting at the

A Palestinian hostage taker appears on the balcony of the Israeli athletes at the Olympic village on September 5, 1972. 13

ATLAS Network: From the foundation until today

Two West German policemen, armed with submachine guns and wearing tracksuits, get into position on the roof of the building.

airport of Fürstenfeldbruck was not prepared for that. Accordingly, there were only five police officers on the roof of the terminal as well as at the edge of the brightly lit runway to shoot the terrorists. They were armed with the assault rifle Heckler & Koch (HK) G3 and the precision rifle Steyr SSG 69. But none of the five officers was trained as a sniper. After the helicopters had landed at the airport, the commando leader “Issa” and another terrorist got out of one of the two aircraft. Both inspected the Lufthansa Boeing 727 on standby and were very angry when they found out that there was no crew on board. When both walked back to the helicopters the incident commander issued the order to shoot. Neither had the five police officers any radio contact with each other, nor did they have night vision equipment. Furthermore, they did not know the position of their colleagues at the edge of the runway. A heavy gunfight followed during which one police officer suffered a fatal shot to the head. Another police officer on the runway was mistaken for a terrorist by his colleague on the opposite roof, shot and injured. Only when at about midnight several special armoured vehicles arrived from Munich and could be seen by the terrorists did they realise the hopelessness of their situation. At about 00:10 one of the terrorists opened fire at the

One of the destroyed border-police helicopters that was part of the failed rescue operation at the Fürstenfeldbruck air base near Munich. 14

tied-up hostages in the first helicopter and threw a hand grenade into the helicopter before he was fatally shot by police. None of the four hostages survived the detonation. The five hostages in the second helicopter were also shot and killed by the terrorists. At 01:32 the operation was officially declared over. The tragic result: the nine Israeli hostages were dead. Their names: David Mark Berger, Zeev Friedman, Yossef Gut­freund, Eliezer Halfin; André Spitzer, Amitzur Schapira, Kehat Shorr, Mark Slavin and Yakov Springer. On the side of the intervention forces the police officer Anton Fliegerbauer lost his life. Five of the eight terrorists had been shot; the three surviving ones surrendered and were imprisoned. Only a few weeks later, these three terrorists were freed by force when their release was secured by menace in the course of an airplane hijacking. The Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meïr and the security cabinet then commissioned the secret service Mossad to find the three surviving terrorists and the mastermind of the Olympia massacre. Over the next 20 years, Mossad succeeded in killing two of the three attackers as well as at least twelve Palestinians suspected of having been involved in the planning of the massacre. At the time of print of this book the last surviving attacker is still alive: Jamal Al-Gashey. He is probably hiding somewhere in Africa. The mastermind of the attack Mohammed Daoud Oudeh (called “Abu Daoud”) died of natural causes in Damascus on July 3, 2010.

Europe responds The processing of this disastrous operation resulted in widespread consequences in Germany and the many states of Europe which was at the time still divided into East and West. In Germany the Minister of the Interior Genscher gave already in September the order to set up a counter-terrorism unit on a national level. The order was given to the famous officer in the then Federal Border

ATLAS Network: From the foundation until today

Guard Ulrich K. Wegener who was active as liaison officer to the Ministry of the Interior and who himself had been eyewitness to the botched operation in Fürstenfeldbruck in his function as advisor to the Minister of the Interior. Wegener then visited the Israeli special unit Sayarat Matkal and the British 22. Special Air Service Regiment (SAS). Both units provided valuable support for the build-up of the Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (GSG 9). In the then eleven German states smaller special units (SEK) were set up in parallel by the police, mainly to fight violent criminals.

cessfully accomplished in 1974. As his German colleague Wegener, Prouteau was a guest of the SAS regiment which at the time was based in Hereford. But Prouteau also frequently visited the young GSG 9 in Sankt Augustin near Bonn. In the second half of the 1970s several other counter-terrorism units were founded, e. g. the Genderarmerieeinsatzkommando Cobra in Austria in 1978, or the Grupo Especial de Operaciones (G.E.O.) in Spain in 1978. Western Europe prepared itself against international terrorism, others were to follow. The attack during the Olympic Games was also closely analysed in the countries of the former so-called East Bloc.

Several governments opted even before but also after this attack to either tolerate or actively support left wing extremist or anti-Israeli terror organisations. The intention was to avoid becoming a terrorist target themselves – in particular by Arabic groups – through passive or active support of such groups. A strategy which turned out to be quite successful. However, in the affected regimes and security organisations was a permanent fear to be attacked from inside a nation. They feared their own citizens who wanted to defend themselves against dictatorial regimes or wanted to extort their departure to the West by hostage takings or hijackings. These fears were well jus-

Ulrich K. Wegener who was ordered to build up a SIU within the German Federal Border Guard was himself eyewitness to the botched operation in 1972.

Belgium responded also very quickly to the events in Munich and created the special unit “Diane” in November 1972. Similar to that several special units were set up in federal Switzerland by the respective canton police forces, e. g. ARGUS (Canton Aargau), BARRACUDA (Canton Greater Basel) or ENZIAN (Canton Bern). In France the GIGN of the gendarmerie was also founded in response to the Munich massacre. Since 1966, the “Brigade de Recherche et d’Intervention (BRI)” with a tactical team had already been in existence. However, BRI was primarily intended to fight criminals and at the time was with regard to its personnel not in a position to fight effectively terror commandos such as in Munich. The gendarmerie officer and passionate parachute jumper Captain Christian Prouteau was given the order to set up the GIGN, which he suc-

Aerial view of the fiasco at Fürstenfeldbruck provided by the police archives Munich. 15

ATLAS Expert Groups and Forums

Forum “Innovation S.T.A.R.” (Support Technologies for Assault and Reconnaissance) The Forum “Innovation S.T.A.R.” originated in the project “Drones” which was set up in 2015. In April 2019 and following a suggestion by the project group, the commanders of the ATLAS special units decided unanimously during the ATLAS Commanders’ Forum (ACF) in Brascov (Romania) to change the project group into a forum. This was done to ensure that the work produced so far for the expiring project “Drones” could be continued and that the field of research could be extended. It was the goal of the commanders to create a permanent institution in the form of a forum to do justice to the increas-


ing importance of modern operational technology for special units. Technical development is advancing rapidly in many areas. Here, it is important to keep up with the developments and provide the special units with the best technology available which can be used reliably and quickly and offers a tactical advantage for the handling of incident scenarios. The Forum “Innovation S.T.A.R.” analyses closely future technologies and their potential introduction to special units. Apart from the many aspects of drones and drone defence the forum deals with such topics as robotics,

sensors, and image transfer. Therefore, they do market research, and products are tested for their usability, so that among other things recommendations for equipment can be made during the regular exchange with ATLAS special units. The Forum “Innovation S.T.A.R.” consists at the moment of nine special units from eight European countries and is managed by the intervention unit Cobra (Austria). The forum is integrated like no other group into the exchange of experiences and the transfer of knowledge with other networks and organisations on a European level.

ATLAS Expert Groups and Forums

With regular meetings and workshops the forum tries permanently not only to stay up to date and keep the special units up to date, but also to participate actively in technical developments. It is also important for the forum to collaborate with other Expert Groups and Forums of the

ATLAS Network, and to run joint exercises and workshops to create synergies with other operational means. The respective national police forces are also interested in the current level of expertise and benefit from the results (e. g. establishment of drone defence systems).

Forum “Innovation S.T.A.R.” Foundation: 2019 Directorate: EKO Cobra/DSE (Austria) Members: AKS (Denmark), Delta (Norway), DSI (the Netherlands), DSU (Belgium), EKO Cobra/DSE (Austria), GSG 9 (Germany), Lučko (Croatia), SEK Baden-Württemberg (Germany), UEI (Spain).


ATLAS Expert Groups and Forums

Forum “Rapid Response”

During acts of violence a fast intervention by police forces is necessary to save the lives of innocent people. The primary intention is to detain the perpetrators and stop them from causing further damage. On the other hand, the risk for intervention forces is huge because the number of perpetrators and their weapons are – especially in the initial phase – not known. This fast intervention or rapid response requires intensive training, suitable equipment, and last but not least a decisive action during the incident. The experts of the ATLAS Network analysed the patterns of violent attacks worldwide and initiated the project “Rapid Response” in 2014. The main initiators were the Dutch DSI (Dienst Speciale Interventies) and SCO19 (Specialist Crime and Operations) from Great Britain. Both units were predestined for this problem because they had done intensive studies about rapid response teams. At the beginning of 2015, it was decided to continue the work of “Rapid Response” as a project group within the ATLAS Network. 52

The first members of this new project group were Delta (Norway), DSI (the Netherlands), DSU (Belgium), RAID (France), and SCO19 (Great Britain). When in the second half of 2015 there was an increase in attacks in Europe committed by small, mobile and heavily armed terrorist teams, the project group “Rapid Response” gained even more importance within the ATLAS Network. Consequently, it was enlarged with the following units: ERU (Ireland), GIOE (Portugal), GSG 9 (Germany), Karhu (Finland), and NOCS (Italy). In the context of the major exercise “Common Challenge” 2018 which took place in various countries, the strategies and tactics for rapid response were intensively trained. The venue was the Slovak city of Komárno. In this place various scenarios, which followed closely the terror attacks in Paris in November 2015 and included a mass hostage taking, were simulated. The main emphasis was on fighting several mobile perpetrators, the coordination of different units, and the deployment of specially armoured vehicles. The participating units were EKO/Cobra (Aus-

tria), Lučko (Croatia), Lynx (Slovakia), Red Panthers (Slovenia), TEK (Hungary), and URNA (Czech Republic). As with all project groups of the ATLAS Network the work of “Rapid Response” was temporary at first. However, the ATLAS Commanders’ Forum decided in the summer of 2019 that this topic should be permanently present within the network. The commanders decided then that “Rapid Response” should continue its work in the form of an ATLAS Forum. The management was taken over by DSI from the Netherlands. The strategic and tactical concept to be able to fight effectively small and mobile acting terrorist teams is still of great importance. The terror patterns of recent attacks have shown this in a dramatic way. The attacks in Paris, Berlin, Nice, London, Utrecht, Munich or Vienna all were typical rapid response scenarios. This is reflected in the fact that “Rapid Response” is one of the Forums in the ATLAS Network with a large number of members.

Forum “Rapid Response” Foundation: 2014 Directorate: DSI (the Netherlands) Members: AKS (Denmark), ARAS (Lithuania), Delta (Norway), EKO Cobra/DSE (Austria), ERU (Ireland), GIGN (France), GIOE (Portugal), GSG 9 (Germany), Karhu (Finland), NI (Sweden), OMEGA (Latvia), RAID (France), SCO19 (Great Britain), SEK Baden-Württemberg (Germany), Special Units from Switzerland, TEK (Hungary) and URNA (Czech Republic).

Cooperation between ATLAS and Europol

Cooperation between ATLAS and Europol Europol is the European Law Enforcement Agency with its headquarters in The Hague in the Netherlands. Since 2017, it is officially called European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation. It supports the 27 EU member states in fighting serious forms of international crime as well as terrorism. With regard to this Europol cooperates with numerous partner countries outside the EU and with international organisations.

For many years the European states have been confronted with criminal and terrorist networks which are a significant threat for the internal security of the EU and are therefore a danger to the population. Criminals and terrorists do not stop at any borders – just the opposite. They target the weak spots in the cross-border exchange of information between the authorities. The clear shift of strategy of the so-called Islamic State to conduct attacks in the way

of special units in the international environment – in particular in Europe – as well as the increasing number of foreign terrorists show the new challenges with which the EU and its member states are confronted. It became clear that in order to respond adequately to threats law enforcement agencies need well-trained counter-terrorism units able to operate all over Europe. This brought up the general question how such a cooperation could be organised. Various models were presented and discussed. In April 2017, the ATLAS commanders voted for a continuation of ATLAS as an independent network, but with closer ties with Europol. The commanders were convinced that it was better to use already existing structures more efficiently than to create new formats and structures. On October 10, 2018, Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle, Austria’s Minister of the Interior Herbert Kickl and ATLAS President Bernhard Treibenreif signed the new guidelines about the future cooperation between ATLAS and Europol during the ATLAS-­Europol conference. These guidelines defined goals, areas of cooperation, work structures, the configuration of the still to be founded ATLAS Support Office (ASO), as well as budget and financial matters. Executive Director Catherine De Bolle was very optimistic about ATLAS as the new cooperating partner:

Commanders with the Minister of Interior Herbert Kickl at the ATLAS-Europol-Conference 2018. 53

Cooperation between ATLAS and Europol

“An important element about which we are very happy is the facilitation of cross-border deployments of Special Intervention Units. Europol actively supports ATLAS in developing ambitious projects for the future, including the creation of joint training activities and the concentration of resources.” A vital part of the agreement was the creation of an ATLAS Support Office, which would be affiliated to the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) in the command centre at Europol headquarters. Europol set this centre up in January 2016. It is at the same time an operational centre as well as a centre of expertise for counter terrorism. The ECTC focuses on the following activities: • providing operational investigative support on request of an EU member state • fighting foreign terrorists • exchange of information and expertise about the financing of terrorism via the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program and the Financial Intelligence Unit

• analysis of online propaganda of terrorists (via the Internet Referral Unit of the EU) • fighting the illegal arms trade • international cooperation between the counterterrorism authorities. Due to this range of activities, it was the right decision to place the ATLAS Support Office at Europol command centre and it is for both sides a central contact point and in the daily service routine the main interface between ATLAS and Europol. ASO is also a support for the ATLAS chairmanship because it establishes contacts to strategic and operative experts at Europol in the relevant areas of counter-terrorism and serious organised crime. For Europol ASO is the first port of call to address the various European counter-terrorism units. Another major advantage is the continuity of a permanent office. The ATLAS Executive Office (AEB) does excellent work but is linked to the tenure of a presidency. With a change of presidency, which takes place every four years, seat and contact partners of the Executive Office must change as well. With such a change experience and personal contacts get lost which then have to be rebuild again. With the newly established ATLAS Support Office a continuity is guaranteed which was wanted from the beginning by The Hague. In turn the ATLAS Support Office can use various Europol services, for example administration, IT and legal services. Furthermore, Europol has enormous expertise and a network of specialists all over the world which is now also available to ATLAS.

Catherine De Bolle and Herbert Kickl ratify the cooperation. 54

Europol The authority with its seat in The Hague in the Netherlands supports 27 EU member states in fighting serious forms of international crime and terrorism. In this context Europol cooperates with numerous partner countries outside the EU and with international organisations. Due to its position in the centre of the European security structure Europol is able to provide specific services and fulfils the following functions: • centre for the support of criminal investigations • central interface for information about criminal activities • centre of expertise for criminal investigation. The main focus of activity is on analysis. About 100 analysis specialists are among the best trained experts in Europe. On the EU level Europol has to report to the Council of Justice and Interior Ministers. The current director of Europol is Catherine De Bolle who took over this office in 2018.

Europol in numbers • • • •

more than 1,000 employees 220 Europol liaison officers about 100 analysis specialists support of about 40,000 international investigations per year.

Einsatzkommando “Cobra”





Einsatzkommando “Cobra” – Austria

The memories of the attack of the Palestinian terror group “Black September” during the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 were still fresh when Austria suddenly also found itself as a target for Palestinian terrorists. On September 28, 1973, one year after the events in Munich, two heavily armed terrorists of the Palestinian group „Al-Saika“ took several Jews as hostages at the railway station Marchegg close to the Slovak border. At the time the railway station served as an important access point for Jewish emigrants from the USSR on their way to Israel. Fortunately, the hostage taking ended without any bloodshed. However, this situation did not last for long. On December 21, 1975, an internationally constituted group of terrorists with the name “Arm of the Arab Revolution” stormed the OPEC headquarters in Vienna. The group was under the command of the infamous Venezuelan top terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, known publicly as “Carlos” or “The Jackal”. Two delegates and an Iraki security guard were killed, and eleven ministers were taken as hostages. An attempt to free the hostages failed dramatically. Among others the incident commander was shot and seriously injured. The police, who at the time did not have the appropriate means and tactics, was after negotiations forced to allow the terrorists to be flown out. The need for specially trained police officers became more than obvious. As a consequence of these events the Gendarmerie Task Force (GEK) began its service on January 1, 1978, with a personnel strength of 127 officers. In particular, the German GSG 9 and the French GIGN helped and advised during the build-up of the unit.

Flag troop of the honour formation of Cobra. Ceremonial handover of the ATLAS chairmanship to the Slovak Lynx on June 29, 2021. 76

Einsatzkommando “Cobra”

Based on the American crime series “Mission Impossible” which was broadcast in the German-speaking countries under the title “Cobra, you are in control”, an Austrian journal gave the synonym “Cobra” to the GEK in the 1970s. More and more this name became accepted also within the unit. “Cobra” became the official unit’s name in 2002 and is symbolically also found on the unit’s badge.

Structure Since its foundation the unit has been under the command of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI). There it is directly subordinated to the General Director for Public Safety who is responsible for the whole of the Austrian Police. In 2013 in the process of a wide-ranging organisational reform the four independently organised special departments within the BMI • Task Force Cobra • Bomb Disposal Service • Operative Additional Measures (today Department for Investigative Techniques) and the • Special Observation Service … were brought together in the newly created Department “Task Force Cobra/Department Special Forces (EKO Cobra/DSE)”. Since October 1992 the headquarters of EKO Cobra are next to the Training and Control Centre in Wiener Neustadt, about 30 km south of the federal capital Vienna. The military special unit of the Federal Army, the “Jagdkommando”, also has its headquarters in this town. When the five Cobra bases in Wiener Neustadt, Vienna, Graz, Linz and Innsbruck were set up together with three operative external bases in the counties of Kärnten, Salzburg and Vorarlberg, it was taken into account that each location within the whole federal territory should be reached within a maximum of 70 minutes. For each base primary regional responsibilities have been defined. How-

ever, there is mutual support among the bases in case of incidents and executive services, which is happening almost every day. Due to this regional spread the response times of EKO Cobra are very short in international comparison. Within the centres of population in Austria EKO Cobra forces are often on scene within minutes because the bases of Cobra are in the major cities of Austria. At each base and in the external offices the task force is organised in the form of several incident modules. In general, a request for Cobra forces goes directly from the local police force to the responsible local Cobra office. The Directorate is structured into three Departments and the Department for Personnel Matters, with a director

Members of the then Gendarmerieeinsatzkommando (GEK) during an exercise in the late 1970s.

being in overall charge. Department 1 houses the Personnel Management, Budget Planning, Technology, and Infrastructure. Department 2 includes the special forces for “Bomb Disposal”, “Observation”, “Personal Protection”, “Air Marshal Force”, “Search Technology” or “Cobra Basic and Special Training”. The operative service of the special unit EKO Cobra is organised in Department 3, which also runs the bases and external offices. This department is responsible for 77

Einsatzkommando “Cobra” – Austria


Einsatzkommando “Cobra”

• Planning, preparation, and execution of operations to fight terror organisations as well as dealing with terror threats • planning, preparation and execution of safety and CID related operations when – due to the dangerousness of the criminals – specially trained and equipped police forces are needed • execution of operative state-run personal protection measures • execution of a security service for Austrian civilian airplanes in case of increased risk (Air Marshals) • protection of Austrian embassies in crisis areas and support in dealing with cases of serious crime abroad whenever Austrian citizens are affected.

Since 1981 EKO Cobra officers are providing safety as Air Marshals for Austrian civilian planes. The Air Marshal programme is together with the Swiss and Israeli programmes one of the oldest worldwide and highly respected.

• • • • • • •

dealing with hostage takings active shootings the storming of airplanes cross border incidents technical missions such as drone defence protection of Austrian missions abroad deployment of police divers.

Another important part is the analysis of completed police missions and events in Austria and abroad. All uses of firearms by the Austrian executive branch are analysed by EKO Cobra. The results become part of personal safety and operational models of the Austrian executive and are taught in training concepts, seminars, and workshops.

While an operator is treated inside the special armoured “Survivor” a safeguard observes the surroundings.

Tasks EKO Cobra runs missions and tasks mainly based on the Austrian Law for Safety and Policing and the Austrian Criminal Trial Legislation. Apart from the original task ­ of fighting terrorism the unit also covers a wide range of other tasks. The arrest of armed persons is in general part of the responsibility of EKO Cobra. Also the support of the Criminal Investigation Department during the arrest of dangerous criminals or arrests in organised crime are part of the unit’s work. Since 1981 EKO Cobra officers are providing safety as Air Marshals for Austrian civilian planes. Furthermore, on December 1, 2002, the state-run personal protection services in the whole of Austria were transferred to EKO Cobra. EKO Cobra is also responsible for 79

Einsatzkommando “Cobra” – Austria

Missions On average EKO Cobra completes about 3,000 missions per year. These are made up by one third each of incident scenarios, personal protection, and flight escorts as Air Marshals. The first hostage taking was dealt with by the unit in Graz on June 16, 1980. A 35-year-old armed man entered a doctor’s surgery and took 23 hostages. Negotiations turned out to be extremely difficult due to the volatile mental condition of the hostage taker. When the next day one hostage was shot, injured Cobra officers stormed the surgery and terminated the hostage taking without further bloodshed.

MedEvac exercise: An injured is carried to a helicopter while team members secure the boarding process.


EKO Cobra is until today the first special unit worldwide to have succeeded in terminating a hijacking of an airplane even during the flight. On October 17, 1996, four EKO Cobra officers were on board a Tupolew Tu-154 of the Russian airline Aeroflot. Their task was to secure the extradition of convicts from Austria to Lagos via Malta. However, during the flight one passenger armed with a knife succeeded in entering the cockpit and bringing the pilot under his control. He ordered the crew to redirect the plane either to Germany or South Africa. The officers were able to overpower the hijacker with their special equipment and finished the hijacking without any bloodshed. The four EKO Cobra officers were given an award by the then Russian Prime Minister and later President Vladimir Putin in recognition of their decisive action. On November 14, 1996, EKO Cobra was called into the prison in Graz-Karlau. Three imprisoned and very violent convicts had badly injured two prison guards and taken three female employees as hostages. They demanded a helicopter and a ransom and acted very decisively. After intensive nine-hour-long negotiations and tactical planning an intervention team succeeded in overpowering the men and freed all hostages unharmed.

An extremely complex mission was conducted by five officers during the war in Lebanon. In July 2006 they successfully evacuated several Austrians and citizens of other EU countries as well as citizens of other nations from the war zone in Lebanon via Syria to their safe home countries. In neighbouring Germany EKO Cobra supported members of the Bavarian special forces during the amok run in Munich in July 2016. An 18-year-old German-Iranian shot and killed nine people in the Olympia shopping mall (OEZ) and the neighbouring area. Five more people were seriously injured by gunshots. Since it was assumed that this was a terror attack with some perpetrators several German special units and the GSG 9 of the German Federal Police were ordered to Munich. Furthermore, the incident commander accepted the offer for support from EKO Cobra and 42 Austrian officers were deployed in the innercity area of Munich. The operation lasted in total about seven hours until it was confirmed that it had been a single perpetrator. Cooperation between EKO Cobra and the German special units in such a major incident worked as usual very well. In July 2017 the G20 summit took place in Hamburg amidst the highest level of security. During and immedi-

Einsatzkommando “Cobra”

ately after the summit serious riots took place. During the summit the numerous German special units were supported by 20 EKO Cobra officers at interventions and arrests and by 75 colleagues of WEGA (Vienna Task Force Incident Department) as well as by Austrian Traffic Police and Public Order Officers. On October 21, 2008, any assistance by EKO Cobra officers arrived too late when in the evening hours a small light-wing aircraft with two passengers – flying from Haßfurt into the direction of Hungary – crashed on the roof of the headquarters of EKO Cobra mission control in Wiener Neustadt. With increasingly poor visibility the pilot was searching for an emergency landing spot and mistook the lights of the radio mast on the roof of the headquarters for the lights of the nearby airport of Wiener Neustadt. Both people on board died. The EKO did not suffer any casualties at the time. The building of EKO Cobra was badly damaged by the impact and the subsequent fire.

Tragic incident The work of special units often includes a high risk for the officers. Even the best planning and training can only mini­ mise the risk, but never completely eliminate any danger. An operation in 2013 symbolises such a tragic event for EKO Cobra and the Austrian police. In the area south of Sankt Pölten (Lower Austria) illegal killing of roe deer had been increasingly taking place over several years. EKO Cobra was integrated into the investigative search by the county police authority of Lower Austria. On September 16, 2013, shortly before midnight three EKO Cobra officers succeeded to trace the vehicle of a suspect. As investigations later showed the driver was a 55-year-old owner of a transport company who was also a hunter and gun enthusiast. During the chase in pouring rain the suspect lost control of the vehicle which then came off the road. He left the vehicle and lay in wait for the

officers who arrived shortly afterwards. When they carefully approached the empty car, the suspect immediately opened fire with a stolen assault rifle and badly injured an EKO Cobra officer who died several hours later in hospital. The suspect – still on the run – started again to fire, this time he attacked the arriving ambulance. He fatally shot one paramedic and injured another police officer. On his escape he encountered a police patrol who were positioned to support the operation, and again killed both officers. Then he fled to his own house in the vicinity. In the early hours of September 17, officers managed to locate the suspect. Until the afternoon officers treated the incident as a hostage taking because one of their colleagues had been abducted by the man. Only when this possibility had been excluded the decision was taken to storm the building and arrest the perpetrator. Officers considered themselves to be in highest danger since it was expected that the house might be booby-trapped. At first no trace could be found of the man. Only around midnight did officers discover the access door to a secret bunker. When breacher technicians succeeded in opening the door they discovered the man in the middle of the room, just moments after he had taken his own life. On the premises seven legal and 306 (!) illegal stolen firearms were found, among them precious hunting rifles. Furthermore, the man was found guilty of several more crimes such as burglaries, fire raising and also attempted murder. The total damage of these deeds is estimated to be at more than € 10 m. The loss of a Cobra colleague, two more police colleagues and a paramedic led to deep shock within Cobra, but also to a painstakingly detailed analysis. As one result the paramedic division within the unit was significantly extended and became more professional.

Operator of Cobra with Glock 17 and attached laser-/light-component. 81

Einsatzkommando “Cobra” – Austria

Selection and training Every male and female police officer of the Austrian Federal Police can apply for service in the special unit EKO Cobra, independent of sex and age. A precondition is a period of active police duty of at least two years. After a first screening of the applications the potentially suitable candidates are selected and invited to a one-week selection process in Wiener Neustadt. Here they have to complete a number of tests: sports and movement, shooting techniques, psychology and a medical test. In addition, the candidates must pass four knock-out criteria. Failure in one of these categories means exclusion from the selection process. Candidates who have passed the demanding selection test are admitted for basic training. The highest ranked candidates are then accepted.

Basic training Each basic training course consists of 20 – 25 officers and takes place in the training centre in Wiener Neustadt. The prospective operators are intensively trained in the areas of incident tactics, shooting, close combat, rope techniques and sports. The requirements are always high and frequently some candidates give up. Since the official foundation of Cobra in 1978 more than 1,200 male and female officers completed basic training.

Special deployments at EKO Cobra/DSE After finishing their basic training officers are trained for one or several special areas, always in accordance with their strengths and suitability. These are:

Operational diving Training to become an operational diver takes place in different modules. The training centre of the divers is located at the Attersee in Upper Austria which is one of the deep82

est Austrian lakes. In the beginning a five-week long basic diving course must be completed. Basic training consists of diving to perform work and diving for missing persons and evidence. Next are special modules such as deep diving, ice diving and tactical diving. Each diver must complete a two-week course at the Bomb Disposal Service (ESD) to be able to handle IED. Operational divers develop a high diving frequency. A minimum of two times two days per month and a whole week per year are used for ice diving, deep diving, and tactical diving training.

The combination of diving and bomb disposal skills is exceptional. Therefore, special units all around the globe frequently consult the underwater bomb disposal experts of EKO Cobra. Operational divers of EKO Cobra use the most advanced equipment in Europe. For operations to defuse IED the divers need special anti-magnetic dive suits to avoid the accidental triggering of IED. For the search for IED special devices such as X-ray equipment are needed. For deep dives a special technology is used which allows for dives up to 100 metres deep. Apart from special equipment the divers also have standard equipment such as ballistic helmets, protective vests, long rifles, and handguns. During routine dives in police operations the officers use normal compressed air. The officers always carry weapons. Communication under water takes place with the help of ultra-sonic radio technology. The applications for EKO Cobra/DSE divers are very wide ranging. In particular, the combination of diving and bomb disposal skills is exceptional. Therefore, the know-how of the underwater bomb disposal experts is also internationally in high demand and special units all around the globe frequently consult the skilled colleagues of EKO Cobra/DSE. Every year the operational divers of EKO Cobra/DSE are called up about 30 times.

Parachute jumping Apart from helicopters and drones the BMI also has specially trained parachute jumpers as a tactical airborne means during operations since 1988. The silent gliding towards any target from great heights and distances, landing on roofs, in densely built areas and alpine regions are the special skills of EKO Cobra’s paratroopers. Every Cobra officer has to pass the basic military paratrooper training at the Federal Army in Wiener Neustadt. At the so-called automatic jumping more than 848 officers of EKO Cobra have since 1988 been trained by military parachute instructors for the jump with automatically triggered round-caps. Especially qualified officers are then admitted to a high-performance group. After a five-week manual advanced course and passing of all tests they receive their parachute certificate. Next are special courses such as alpine jumping, night jumping, gliding missions and jumps with additional loads. Since 1994 and in the context of a training mandate of the civilian Aviation Authority EKO Cobra itself trains parachute jumpers, including all additional qualifications. So far about 51 EKO Cobra officers have completed this training. More than 38,700 jumps have been made, and each year the parachute jumpers complete about 1,300 jumps. Alpine jumping at EKO Cobra is of special importance for the military and special units in Europe. Parachute jumpers of EKO Cobra regularly welcome guests of the Austrian Jagdkommando, the German GSG 9 and the Italian GIS in the village of Lienz, which has been established as course location since 1994.

Cobra operator protecting an injured companion during an exercise in the field.

Einsatzkommando “Cobra”


Einsatzkommando “Cobra” – Austria

Sniping The training to become a sniper at EKO Cobra includes introductions to weapons and devices, shooting from various positions and at various distances, special operational language and radio communication, courses about gun laws, and psychological training. Operators learn how to shoot under extreme pressure and on command. Snipers shoot at each training the so-called cold shot, i. e. the very first shot on a training day. In this context each sniper must hit a circular target with a diameter of about 2,5 centimetres from a distance of 100 metres even under poor conditions (wind, rain, cold etc.). During the monthly staff development seminars shooting at night or under poor visibility is also trained.

Police dogs Police dogs have been in use for many years at various special units. Since 1987 EKO Cobra/DSE uses Belgian Malinois dogs (Belgian Shepherd dogs) as police dogs. This breed brings ideal preconditions and skills for very dangerous operations in buildings and open terrain. They start their training as young dogs, at about 11 years of age they usually retire and stay thereafter with their dog handler. “Only when the dog fully trusts the human and the human fully trusts the dog you can deal with the difficult tasks during our operations”. This is the motto for the training of police dogs at EKO Cobra/DSE. The dog handlers have to complete a two-year course in addition to their normal training. During this time the dog handler and his dog get to know each other very well. The course finishes with a three-day exam in which the relationship between dog handler and his dog as well as their skills are thoroughly tested. Only those who succeed in creating a genuine unity between themselves and their dog and are at the same time open to sacrifice everything for their companion are at the end of the exam allowed to start working as a new team. 84

Taking the dog on duty is always part of the operational planning, however, in the end the dog handler decides whether to send the dog or not. At first mission control needs to check the legal framework. The aim of the deployment of a police dog is a target-oriented silent attack on the perpetrator without getting distracted.

At each training, snipers must – with the very first shot – hit a circular target with a diameter of about 2,5 cm from a distance of 100 m even under poor conditions.

Personal protection The training to become a close protection expert is part of the six-months long basic training. In continuation of the skills taught during basic training a several weeks long special personal protection course must be completed. Every officer has to complete several times per year a one-day personal protection seminar, apart from his mandatory main training in which topics from the basic training are intensified and extended. Furthermore, a special personal protection driver training must be completed. Quality and quantity of the training are equal to international standards. A special quality of the personal protection service at EKO Cobra is its permanent availability. Officers are ready for deployment at any base and can accompany persons at risk for longer periods of time. EKO Cobra is a unit which practises personal protection according to a strict guideline. In this guideline, developed by EKO Cobra, the philosophy, and values of EKO Cobra are clearly defined. It is the basis for all activities and makes education, goals, and tasks in personal protection clear and transparent. This is of enormous importance in this sensitive area. EKO Cobra puts great emphasis on exchange and close cooperation with international personal protection services, so that all tactical procedures are compatible in joint operations. This is of special importance during mis-

sions abroad and during visits of foreign guests to Austria since here “mixed” teams often have to work together. EKO Cobra has a membership of the European Network of People Protecting Forces (ENPPF) – with regular halfyearly conferences and workshops – and of the Association of the People Protecting Services (APPS) in which 68 state-run personal protection organisations from 60 countries worldwide are represented. APPS conducts coordinating conferences and various forms of education and workshops. Furthermore, there is also a membership in the European Black Griffin Project since 2015. Under the leadership of Dutch and German special units standards in personal and object protection in crisis regions are being worked out. EKO Cobra’s tactics are highly compatible and its performance in personal protection is highly valued by foreign units.

About 120 officers are trained as “Flight Monitor for Special Missions of the Security Police”. And about 35 persons at Cobra are trained for deployment in alpine or high-altitude terrain.

Rope techniques This special application includes rope techniques, alpine know-how, and becoming a “Flight Monitor for Special Missions of the Security Police (FBS)”. For some years now EKO Cobra has been running the “Tactical Training in Hostile Terrain (TAUG)”. In the process of TAUG trainings every officer has to invest several hours per year into training and staff development seminars. The focus of this training is on camouflage and moving in the terrain, orientation with maps or technical instruments such as GPS devices or a compass. During basic training a lot of the exercises take place in the training tower on the Cobra premises. The 20-meterhigh tower with six levels serves for any rope and tactic

Einsatzkommando “Cobra”

Speed and precision: four operators of Cobra at shooting training.

related tasks. Rope technicians are specialists for knots, are perfect with various abseiling methods, ground preparation and recovery techniques. In the tower officers work hard to improve their team skills, level of concentration, strength, and endurance. For deployment in difficult scenarios the appropriate roping techniques must be learned. This includes breaching tools and various types of equipment depending on the respective scenario. In the beginning of the 1980s a special training and operations concept for the then available helicopters of the Aviation Police (Jet Ranger Bell 206B and later also Airbus Écureuil) was developed for EKO Cobra to deal with extremely dangerous incidents. Out of this concept the “Flight Monitor for Special Missions of the Security Police (FBS)” was developed. Since 2008 EKO Cobra/DSE can also use the Eurocopter 135. Apart from the general work such as guiding the helicopter, navigation, radio, etc., the FBS is also responsible for the following tasks: • support during search flights • stopping of vehicles and persons • tactical protection of colleagues from the air • tactical abseiling • prisoner transports • flights with the long rope (except alpine recovery). At EKO Cobra/DSE about 120 officers are trained as Flight Monitor for Special Missions of the Security Police. They support police officers at local and regional levels, e. g. during natural disasters (floods, avalanches, etc.).

Furthermore, there are at the moment about 35 persons at EKO Cobra/DSE who are trained for deployment in alpine or high-altitude terrain. Eleven of these are trained police mountain guides. The training varies according to the season and weather conditions (skiing tours, climbing, orienteering, etc.).

Air Marshals Since 1981 undercover EKO Cobra officers protect passenger flights of Austrian airlines. In the months after September 11, 2001, the number of missions rose dramatically. Until today EKO Cobra is seen as the only counter terrorism unit which was able to end a hijacking of an airplane during the flight. The Air Marshal Service requires a

very high training standard of the deployed police officers. Great emphasis is put on close combat techniques. The demanding training takes place on the premises of EKO Cobra in Wiener Neustadt in an Air Marshal training centre which was built especially for this purpose. The training infrastructure of the centre (airplane replicas and interactive indoor shooting range) was planned for the purpose of Air Marshal training and is state-of-the-art. The training courses for officers conducting deportations are also run here. The EKO Cobra Air Marshal programme is together with the Swiss and Israeli programmes one of the oldest worldwide and highly respected. As a result, a well-functioning network between airlines, international authori85

Einsatzkommando “Cobra” – Austria


Einsatzkommando “Cobra”


Einsatzkommando “Cobra” – Austria

ties and contacts could be established. The core personnel in the areas of Air Marshal work and deportations has, due to its long specialisation, the international cooperation and the steady progress, a high reputation within the Air Marshal network and is highly estimated as a partner for cooperation within the international network. The Austrian Air Marshal programme is globally connected within the International In-Flight Security Officer Committee (IIFSOC). As a founding member EKO Cobra is part of the steering committee. The purpose of the Air Marshal network is the mutual support and international cooperation against terror threats in civilian aviation. At instructor workshops and annual conferences there is an exchange of experiences and possible solutions for potential threats are developed. Technical developments are also discussed in this context.

Special operations techniques and ­drones Since 2020 EKO Cobra/DSE has its own department dealing with the deployment of and defence against drones. All over the country special technicians are responsible for establishing satellite communication, the support of arrest teams with robots and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) of all kinds, and the set-up of bugging devices, video equip-

ment and radar systems and other sensors to detect persons within buildings and in open spaces. In high-risk operations technicians use breaching technology for the opening of doors, windows and walls. Another area is the defence against drones in the context of state visits or sensitive events. With some technical developments – such as team-tracking, an Air Marshal communication system or a sniper control system – EKO technicians were trail blazers for such special equipment. The training for these special technicians lasts about two months and takes place in several steps. First a course about breaching techniques must be completed, then the permission to use explosives during missions and to blow up metal has to be obtained. In parallel training takes place for all technical operation equipment used in the areas mission tactics and UAV deployment and defence, and the training as UAV pilot for special incidents. In 2015 technicians of EKO Cobra took over the running of the technical competency group within the ATLAS Network. The excellent connection with other European special units guarantees the necessary exchange of knowledge and experience in this rapidly developing technology segment.

International competitions Every four years the Combat Team Conference (CTC) is organised by the GSG 9 in Sankt Augustin near Bonn. It is seen as the globally most important event for counter terrorism units of the military and the police. Victory at CTC brings very high prestige. In 1999 GEK participated for the first time with a new competition team in Sankt Augustin. In 2003 and 2015 EKO Cobra was the overall winner at CTC. In 2015 43 teams with about 350 participants travelled to the competition. 17 teams were from Germany, 26 from abroad, among them units from Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Brazil, and Colombia. After victories at competitions for special units such as in Zürich (2008), Györ (2010), Jordan (2011) or in Neuchâtel in Switzerland (2014), and other top placements in Germany and the Netherlands the success of the Cobra competition team at the CTC 2015 has further strengthened the international interest in EKO Cobra.

Einsatzkommando Cobra/ Direktion für Spezialeinheiten (EKO Cobra/DSE)

Operator of Cobra with assault rifle Steyr Arms AUG, cal. .300 BLK. 88



Foundation Year:


Member of the ATLAS Network since:






The ATLAS Network is the European answer to violent crime and terroristic threat. 38 Police Special Intervention Units (SIU) of altogether 31 countries belong to this Union that was founded in 2001 under the motto “All together to protect you”. On the one hand, this book gives an exclusive overview about ATLAS Network, its history, organisation, and activities. On the other hand, all units are introduced in detail, from their beginnings until today, and with insights into their training, materials, and their most spectacular operations. Numerous, mostly unpublished photos offer authentic and fascinating views at the experts combating terrorism. The high-qualitative and large format presentation is similar to an illustrated book and brings to bear the special pictures. With support of ATLAS, all Special Forces and Europol, a unique non-fiction book with first-hand information arose, which keeps in mind this European story of success in the fight against criminal and terroristic actions.

ISBN 978-3-96461-044-7


European Special Intervention Units combating terrorism and violent crime


European Special Intervention Units combating terrorism and violent crime

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