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Counter-Hijacking and the Killing Village
Looking like an abandoned city amid the dry forests of Western Australia, stands the "Killing Village" with its multi-story buildings, including an embassy, office block, semi-detached houses and shopping center - all mock-ups. One of the world's most complete counter-terrorist training grounds, it was built by the Australian SAS and is used by special units from all over the world willing to pay generous fees. At first nothing appears to be happening. A few vehicles are stationed in the car park with its yellow meters in front of the two-story shopping complex. Broken glass and spent 9mm brass casings are strewn everywhere within the rubber-coated concrete walls of the various buildings. It has the feeling of an empty movie set. Then there is a mechanical noise, like a conveyor belt. Moving on rails leading out from the shopping center are four robots. One is done up as a female complete with plastic breasts while the rest are males. Two are armed with what seem like real pistols pointing at the heads of the hostages. They stand for moment near a red Toyota, then move back on the rails which disappear into the building. Hidden up in twin towers which rise above the middle of the set, two pairs of SAS snipers have been observing this staged drama through their telescopic sights for days. They also see pneumatic targets popping up behind the windows of the shopping complex, and buzz central control over their walkie-talkies each time to identify if they are seeing a hostage or a terrorist. Lying on the hard gray steel floors, aiming German-made PSG-1 high precision rifles which rest on small tripods, the marksmen are sure never to let the barrels protrude through the windows, their hands at all times firmly holding the grips, their forefingers brushing the triggers. Replacement rifle barrels are laid out to one side.
The men in each pair alternate the watch, taking turns sleeping, eating and relieving themselves in plastic bags which are collected during the night. The multimillion dollar construction contract for the "killing village" was awarded to Australian Construction Services. The various buildings were equipped with interchangeable walls wired for moving targets and computer simulations of hostage scenarios for realistic indoor room clearings. The investment soon began paying off, literally, as 22 SAS, Delta, SEALs, Japanese police SWAT teams and other units paid good money to come to Perth and use what some have called the most sophisticated Counter-terrorism training facility in the world. "Training at the Killing Village has to take into account the kind of instruction being offered to international terrorists," explains Sgt. Bob Mawkes who was put in charge of the Australian SAS CT program. For example, intelligence shared between the various CT units in the early eighties indicated that Muammar Gaddafi had made Libya's national airline available for groups like the Palestinian extremist Abu Nidal to practice hijackings. "We had to do the same in order to counter it," says Mawkes. Qantas Airlines provided the Australian SAS with an airliner in which to train in anti-hijacking.
British Airways did the same for 22 SAS, Eastern Airlines provided one of their jetliners for Delta, Lufthansa for the GSG9 and Air France made its entire air fleet readily available to the GIGN. Counter-hijacking is considered one of the most dangerous and risky special forces operations. "If you can master that you should be able to do anything," says Philippe Legorjus of the GIGN, which has trained on every kind of airliner there is, from small DC9s to Jumbos. As a result of rehearsing counter-hijacking once a month, the GIGN claims to be the best at it. One exercise consists of abseiling by rope from a helicopter flying at sixty feet on to the fuselage of an airliner taxiing on a runway and gaining access to the interior through the escape hatches. Legorjus, Christian Prouteau and the GIGN's current commander, Captain Denis de Favier, all maintain that the French group has developed a secret method of penetrating a closed aircraft without using explosives.
"We have learned how it is possible to open a plane's emergency door from the outside," elaborates Prouteau. According to him, the GIGN has used this system on three occasions. In one incident in which an IRA terrorist commandeered a plane at gunpoint from London to north-west France, the GIGN's main fear was of a booby-trap bomb which the hijacker had rigged inside the aircraft. Taking advantage of demands for food to be brought to the plane, four GIGN men gained access to the plane by pretending to be stewards carrying the pile of trays. Overpowering the gunman by quickly getting him in an arm and head lock and with a .38 revolver brushing his temple, they managed to disconnect the detonation device for the bomb, which he was carrying on him. When