An armed robbery of a McDonald's restaurant in Besancon, France, was thwarted by the intervention of 11 customers who were off-duty members of an elite special forces unit.
On June 5, two men armed with guns entered the restaurant, where they found about 40 people, including the officers, reports The Washington Post. After firing a warning shot, the men allegedly took about $2,200 in cash from the registers.
The off-duty officers, who were also armed, did not initially intervene. According to The Telegraph, they were members of the French Group d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie National, a group specially trained on counterterrorism and hostage situations. Because of their extensive training, the officers knew that drawing their weapons would put the lives of the other customers at risk.
Edwige Roux-Morizot, the local prosecutor, said this restraint was the right call.
“During the hold-up, the gendarmes didn’t do anything,” he told The Telegraph. “It was out of the question to use their weapons, as this would have created difficulties and could have placed many other people’s lives in danger.”
The officers kept watch on the robbers until they moved to leave the store, NPR reports. It was then, reports say, that the suspect carrying the cash stumbled and the officers seized the opportunity to intervene.
The officers grabbed the first robber and told the other to drop his weapon. When he refused, an officer shot him in the stomach. The officers held the men until local police arrived and transported the men to a nearby hospital. Both will face armed robbery charges.
The GIGN is one of France’s most highly trained and well-known special forces units. The Independent calls its training program “notoriously brutal” and reports that, according to French law, the media is barred from showing images of members’ faces.
The unit was created in 1972 in the wake of the death of the Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympics hostage situation that same year. The series of failed attempts to free the hostages spurred efforts to develop more effective counterterrorism forces across Europe.
GIGN officers have been involved in a number of high-profile rescue missions, including a foiled airplane hijacking in 1994.