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14 September 2015


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Pat, just before I left Burlington, my wife and I attended a lecture by Rick Steves. He appears frequently on PBS and we use his travel guides faithfully.

He was touting Egypt as the hot spot to travel to in the MENA area. I immediately raised my hand up and asked him point blank if he thought Egypt was a safe place for tourists to travel to. He was extremely pissed at me. Later, I read a review of his that stated that Egypt wasn't for everyone.

Yah. No kidding.



I would be willing to bet that the Egyptian general at Malta had orders to the effect that "don't let the terrorists escape."


That tourists are still going to the Sinai is beyond me. The Egyptian control over the peninsula seems to be on paper at best.



1- This latest incident with the Egyptians was in the Western desert somewhere between Siwa Oasis and Alamein. 2 - In the 1985 incident the Egyptians were quite satisfied with the result until international horror became apparent. pl


Pat, I found that part chilling and alien to my western trained thinking. Like some kind of bad movie where assault is going to happen and the fate of the people on the jet was simply 'too bad, you are in the wrong place and at the wrong time'.

1. No terrorist escape.
2. Minimal casualties to the assault team.
3. Rescue the passengers (if any live through the assault).



IMO Egyptians are particularly prone t the kind of thinking you are referring to. I was keeping this general busy talking on the phone while Crowe talked to the WH. Crowe had asked him what he was going to do. He wouldn't answer that. We were actually talking about how hot it was on the airport apron when he told this colonel with him to attack the airplane. there was no change in his voice at all. pl

Patrick Bahzad

Sounds very much like what almost happened with Air France flight 8969, which was hijacked in Algiers by four "Islamist" terrorists in December 1994.
At one point, Algerian "ninja" commandos had already driven up on the tarmac, hiding in ambulances. The only thing that stopped them was a call by the French Prime-Minister warning about serious consequences should French passengers be harmed in the assault.

In the end, the plane was allowed to fly to Marseilles, where it was stormed by a French Special Forces team (GIGN and EPIGN). The four terrorists were killed and all the passengers were saved.

In all fairness, one has to admit that storming a plane that has been hijacked by determined and well armed people is not easy undertaking, but the way the Egyptians (and Algerians) probably saw the operation was as a military assault, taking civilian "collateral damage" as unavoidable from the start.


Patrick Bahzad

As for the DRM statement it sounds a lot like CYA to me. That the raw material of intelligence is 95% open source is a truism. pl


Unfortunately this is the modus operandi/mindset of all these countries. No surprises here.
Life is tough, people die and we've got a job to do.
What I really find mind boggling is that foreigners still spend their vacations in those places. When you live in those countries, you know what the rules are (mostly that there are very few rules), and you always stay alert. You try not to do stupid things.



I agree. I am still alive because of a friendly appearance and an untrusting heart. pl

Patrick Bahzad

Could be a CYA, could also be the sign of disagreement about way forward between Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and such public statements would aim at bolstering the MoD's stance, which has always been more cautious from the start.

The "95 % open source" statement is the most interesting thing for anybody who's interested in understanding how intel agencies work nowadays.


Tidewater to Patrick Bahzard,

In the 1976 Djibouti kidnapping of a group of school children on a bus by Somali terorists, the GIGN were the ones who were given the credit for the resolution of the incident, which, of course, they led. But other French military units were also involved. It is my understanding that the terrorists were prevailed upon to give food to the school children; the food had tranquilizers in it. The children then slumped to the floor of the bus. This left the terrorists standing. The GIGN, paras, and legionaires then fired into the school bus. Some children were killed. But it was possible to storm the bus at that point. Is this accurate, do you know? Because that description of the event is contradicted by a number of accounts, among them Varoslav Trofimov's very brief mention (p. 188) in his highly readable 'The Siege of Mecca.'

I would be fascinated to hear your take on this matter, and on the GIGN as well.

Also, doesn't this topic lead us directly to the Count de Marenches, the GIGN,
and the siege of Mecca?

It would seem to me that the fairly effective use of CB incapacitating gas in the Qaboo underground labyrinth of the Grand Mosque after the CIA failed with CN is yet another sign that we are now well and truly launched into a era of chemical and biological warfare and might as well get used to it. The public needs to know more about these weapons; there is a deep silence about them.

Perhaps of necessity the siege of Mecca remains a murky event. I think it's Trofimov who says that two American diplomats in disguise got into Mecca very early on and gave an important account of the situation! Shades of Burton. Then the "Blackbirds" reconnaisance aircraft overflew the city and began to clarify what was happening. Count de Marenches was actually in Morocco talking to the King when the phone rang from the Moroccan embassy in Riyadh?

How have things gone since then for the three GIGN commandos Wodecki, Lambert, and Barril? Also: they got the "short conversion" to Islam?

Also what exactly was the relationship between Juhayman and the "Mahdi" Mohammed Abdullah?

Another thing that interests me. Does the GIGN always use a very heavy revolver as apparently they did at Marseilles? Seems like there could be problems with this.

William R. Cumming

Innocents abroad? The average USA tourist IMO!

William R. Cumming

Any Flag Ranks after Zinni fluent in Arabic?



The "does somebody speak.....?". Somethings seem to never change do they Colonel. They panic. They want you, then they don't like what you tell them.

Patrick Bahzad


what you're referring to happened some time before I joined, so I can only tell you what I was told.

The 1976 Djibouti kidnapping involved the GIGN and 2e REP. Difficult rescue operation, small target (a bus full of kids and with 7 terrorists in their midst). Operational Command decided to go for the plan GIGN: snipers firing simultaneously on all hostage takers, followed by full-on assault on the group hiding in foxholes outside the bus.
Problem was to find the exact timing when all GIGN snipers had a visual on all terrorists. They got 6 out of 7, and that's why two hostages were killed by the last gunman before he got shot.
I don't think it was possible to storm the bus without taking out the men inside first. Think it was the right tactical decision, and as far as I know, it's the only situation of its kind any SpecOps or SWAT team had to deal with. A bus is not the size of the Boeing or an Airbus and totally different matter getting in assault position.

Regarding the Siege of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, it was a 5 men GIGN team that was dispatched there (not 3) + a back-up group from the French "Spec Ops Division" of SDECE intel. The chemical that was used was no other than CS gas, nothing special about, except its concentration, which was much higher than regular CS gas used for crowd control. As for the background to the seizure of the mosque, plenty has been written about it. Maybe SST has something about it ? Interesting thing is that the Bin Laden family already played a (minor) role in the whole thing.

Regarding GIGN weapons, the MR-73 revolver is still in use, but they also got Glock 19, SW 686, FN FiveSeveN and various Sig-Sauer models. I would say they are quite capable of deciding if there still is a place for their MR-73 revolvers in the situations they're dealing with.


Tidewater to Patrick Bahzard,

Thank you for that quick, impressive summary.

I never even heard about those men in foxholes. I have read that GIGN is so good with the MR-73 that they routinely disarm a man by hitting him in the shoulder in order to disarm and interrogate him.

I was in Djibouti at the time. Off a navy ship that was on a port visit. I was walking back by the hospital and saw patients in hospital clothing talking over a low hedge in intense conversations with others who had come to visit them and were leaning in. They were deadly serious and speaking in low voices. It was twilight. I had had a growing sense of something really wrong like an oppressive weight of intuition, that I sometimes get. I think I may have heard something said about there being an incident when I was earlier in the Place Menelik, but it wasn't clear. I heard jeeps coming up behind me in the gathering darkness going through those whining gear changes. Again and again they were gearing up and down, because they were going slowly. A column of the French Foreign Legion in jeeps and trucks crawled by me. (Some of the 2eREP, I assume.) They had thirty caliber Browning machine guns on the hoods of the lead jeeps on top of a few sandbags, and I remember some wire, maybe coiled wire, and surely the wind shields were flat down. I swear they were wearing red or maroon berets. Probably wrong about that. They seemed very alert and intent, looking dead ahead. I don't know how this fits into the Timeline, by the way.

We were rounded up fast. The cobalt ocean was very beautiful that night with white combers rolling slowly in and a warm breeze. Our ship, which no longer exists, stood out against the moonlit night with a few standing lights and red masthead lights showing against its darkened shape. We had gone through a very strange darkened industrial area with weird shapes getting to the seawall and one of the sailors said to me: 'Just like Fellini!'

We were waiting for the gig and the longboat. A group of the sailors near the seawall went into a large, massed huddle, arms thrown over one another's shoulders, and then, throwing both arms straight up in the air began bowing towards the sea again and again. In obedience? Submission to Poseidon? Joy in their natural element? Like, you know, worship!? They were making really quite extraordinary if interesting chanting sounds, growling groans, also ululations. I realized I was privileged to be witnessing a strange and mysterious ceremony of the Seafarer that probably harks back to a past deeper than the black-nailed long ships.


BabelFish -

It is depressing that after a lifetime dreaming about travel, now that I'm old enough (kid almost out of college) and well off enough to do it, I realize that there are huge swaths of the world that are probably not a good idea for me to visit. This is not the world I hoped to see when I was younger.

Patrick Bahzad


Didn't know you were there at the time, gave you the 'short' version only as I wasn't aware you were that familiar with the thing.

In Djibouti, there was also the 13e DBLE (that's the guys you saw in the jeeps with the Brownings). They gave cover fire as 2e REP led the assault. Berets might have look maroon indeed, because of dust and dirt, but they normally are green. However it's true they often look maroon when they have been out in the sun and dust for too long ;-)

There were 7 men inside the bus and 9 more outside providing for first "defensive line". It's because of these guys, an direct assault on the hijackers in the bus would have been difficult to achieve without getting spotted (or so I'm told). The plan didn't work out because they didn't see the 7th gunman in the bus (guess night vision and thermals were not standard gear back then).

Regarding the MR-73, the guys who still use it prefer it because of its accuracy and penetration. It is also quicker to fire than most pistol type handguns as it can be used for single-action firing, which can make all the difference (again I'm quoting).

Personally, I think it makes sense when dealing with a single hostage taker, when you only have one target to fire at, but with the latest generation of handguns, they have other advantages the MR-73 doesn't have. Each member of the GIGN is free to use the handgun he chooses (except for underwater missions), and lots of them still carry an MR-73 as their preferred side-arm.

In the 1994 Airbus hijacking in Marseilles, one GIGN guy shot two of the terrorists dead through the cockpit door with his MR-73. Guess the fact it only fires 6 rounds doesn't make that much of a difference when you're that accurate in such a situation.

Regarding the GIGN members you were referring to with regard to Mecca, I'm sure if you look up their names on wikipedia, you'll come up with some interesting info.


Among other things, they're using the MR73 with scopes. Pretty unique. The MR73 is renowned for its quality and precision. I gather that the accuracy and power is what they're after.


Form what I read the GIGN is really impressive, and has some of the best marksmanship training to get. Good!

Larry M

"The episode happened around midnight, security officials said" (NYT).

When my wife and I spent a year in Cairo with our kids in the late seventies, stopping at red lights was still considered optional and one-way streets were used in both directions. The only rule we really took seriously was an unofficial one: never drive outside Egyptian cities after nightfall, not because of robbers (or police, for that matter), but because of the traffic. IIRC we only broke that rule once, and that was returning from a visit to a Nile Delta village with most of the itinerary being on highways and motorways.

I would guess that the hapless Mexican tourists and their Egyptian guides only ended up on a desert road around midnight because they had had a serious delay, maybe a vehicle breaking down.

Larry M.




Zinni was fluent in Arabic? How do you know that? pl

different clue


I am still years from retirement and in my case, brute financial restrictions will restrict or prevent my going to many places I would like-in-theory to see. I suspect those places will still be safe, though.

It will be purely a matter of time and money as to whether I ever get to go to New Guinea to watch the birds of paradise dance.



Same here. I grew up dreaming of walking the Valley of Kings, Luxor and so many other spots in Egypt. Who would of thought that Anthony Bourdain and my step-daughter would consider Viet Nam as the most wonderful place to go to in the world, back in the 60's?

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