Germany, Counter-Terrorism Policy

Germany, Counter-Terrorism Policy


Since the 1972 Olympics in Munich, counter-terrorism—the use of military, law enforcement, intelligence, and other resources to identify, circumvent, and neutralize terrorist groups within a country—has been among the principal security concerns in Germany. This priority has changed little with the reunification of the country in 1990; rather, the states of eastern Germany have been integrated into the federal system, which provides the framework for response to terrorist threats.

The Lessons of 1972

When the West German city of Munich hosted the Olympic Games in 1972, it was the first time in 36 years that Germany had hosted the Olympic Games. Whereas Hitler had used the 1936 Olympics as a showcase for Nazi power, the West Germans of 1972 were eager to show that theirs was an open, peaceful, and democratic society. For that reason, the Germans took few measures to protect the athletes at the Olympic Village in Munich. Nor did it seem, in 1972, that such measures were necessary; at that time, the world had little exposure to modern terrorism, with its hijacking, hostage-taking, and other acts of crime under cover of political action.

All of that would change on September 5, 1972, when eight Palestinian terrorists entered an apartment building that housed the Israeli delegation to the Olympics. By the time the day was over, after more than 18 hours in which police surrounded the Olympic Village and the terrorists negotiated with authorities, nine Israeli athletes and one German policeman lay dead. In the aftermath of the Olympic terror, security became a priority not only for the Olympic Games, whose athletes' compounds were heavily secured thereafter, but for nations facing the threat of terrorism. German counter-terrorist policy thus emerged from the painful lessons of Munich.

The German Counter-Terrorist Structure

Directing counter-terrorism in Germany is the coordinator for Intelligence, or Koordinierung der Nachrichtendienste des Bundes, who has the ear of the chancellor—the nation's head of government—and who coordinates state efforts under a general national policy. Actual day-to-day implementation of counter-terrorist activities is the work of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, under whose auspices are police, intelligence agencies, and border police. In line with the federal model on which the German political system is built, each state has its own ministry of the interior, which also has police, intelligence, and emergency preparedness responsibilities for local situations.

Many aspects of the German counter-terrorism structure are similar to those of France. However, the French—despite their heavily centralized government—permit a regional political appointee, or préfet, to assume control in the event of a local incident. The préfet oversees police and emergency activities on the scene. By contrast, in Germany the federal police, when directed to do so by the federal prosecutor or state authorities, take control in terrorist situations. They are usually assisted by state police, which are likely to be the first responders in the event of a local incident.

The Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt), an office of the Ministry of the Interior, provides protection for dignitaries, and investigate acts of terrorism. Intelligence is gathered by a number of agencies, including the German Intelligence Service, or Bundesnachrichtendienst. Within the states, the State Criminal Police (Ländeskriminalamt) conduct criminal investigations.

BGS and GSG 9. The Federal Border Guard (BGS or Bundesgrenzschutz), although they act in a federal capacity, are directed by the states' ministries of the interior. It is the responsibility of the BGS to secure borders, transportation sites, and other sensitive federally controlled areas. Within the BGS is an elite counter-terrorist organization, analogous to the U.S. Delta Force, the British SAS, or the French GIGN. This is GSG 9, or Grenzschutzgruppe 9. A direct outgrowth of the Munich massacre, GSG has taken part in over 1,300 operations since its inception. One of the most notable of these—and one of only a handful of times when GSG 9 has been required to use firearms—was the rescue of passengers aboard a Lufthansa flight hijacked by Arab terrorists in October 1977.

The terrorists, who were working with Germany's notorious Red Army Faction (sometimes known as the Baader Meinhof Gang), seized control of the plane on its way from the Balearic Islands to Germany. Denied landing in a number of locations, the plane finally made its way to Mogadishu, Somalia. There, after Somali troops distracted the hijackers by lighting a bonfire in front of the aircraft, two GSG 9 groups, assisted by SAS personnel, stormed the plane. All of the more than 80 passengers survived, and all but one of the terrorists died in the assault.



Combatting Terrorism: How Five Foreign Countries Are Organized to Combat Terrorism. Washington, D.C.: General Accounting Office, 2000.

Linde, Erik J. G. van de. Quick Scan of Post 9/11 National Counter-terrorism Policymaking and Implementation in Selected European Countries: Research Project for the Netherlands Ministry of Justice. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Europe, 2002.

Tophoven, Rolf. GSG 9, German Response to Terrorism. Koblenz, Germany: Bernard & Graefe Verlag, 1984.


Hoffman, Bruce. "Is Europe Soft on Terrorism?" Foreign Policy no. 115 (summer 1999): 62–76.


Calahan, Alexander B. "Countering Terrorism: The Israeli Response to the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre and the Development of Independent Cover Action Teams." Federation of American Scientists. < > (February 22, 2003).


European Union
France, Counter-Terrorism Policy
Germany, Intelligence and Security

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