1976 Loyada Hostage Rescue Mission

In February 1976, legionnaires of the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment (2e REP) and the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion (13e DBLE) were involved in a hostage rescue mission in Loayada, a village on the border between today’s Djibouti and Somalia, to save 31 French children. The children were kidnapped in Djibouti, the capital of the then French Territory of Afars and Issas (TFAI, formerly French Somaliland, today’s Djibouti), by rebels from the Somali Coast Liberation Front (Front de Libération de la Côte des Somalis, FLCS), a pan-Somali guerrilla organization created in the 1960s and supported by the Somali government.

1976 Loyada Hostage Rescue Mission - TFAI - Somaliland - Djibouti

 

Prelude to the mission

– 1894, France established French Somaliland
– French Somaliland was an important, strategic place in the Horn of Africa
– the territory is a gate to the Red Sea with the Suez Canal
– 1960, Somalia (a British colony) gained its independence
– Somalia laid claim to French Somaliland
– 1963, Somali Coast Liberation Front (FLCS) was created
– its main task was to liberate French Somaliland and attached it to Somalia
– 1967, French Somaliland was renamed the French Territory of Afars and Issas (TFAI)
– 1970, the FLCS launched its first terrorist attack (bombing a bar in Djibouti, the capital)
– 1974-75, violent demonstrations for independence organized by the FLCS
– 1975, a French ambassador in Somalia was kidnapped by the FLCS
– he was exchanged for two imprisoned FLCS militants
– December 31, 1975, pre-negotiations regarding the independence of the TFAI
– the pre-negotiations were held in Paris between French and TFAI officials
– January 30, 1976, TFAI officials made a formal complaint to the Organization of African Unity against Somalia
– they asked Somali government to change the “negative and obstructionist” attitude towards the TFAI

 

3rd February 1976

– in the morning, a military bus left Air Base 188
– the base is located at Djibouti’s Ambouli International Airport
– the bus was going to the school in Djibouti (the capital of the then TFAI)
– a driver, a female assistant and 31 children of French servicemen were on board
– 07:15 AM – the bus was attacked and hijacked by four armed FLCS membres
– they ordered to the bus driver to go to Loyada

  • Loyada is a small village located some 18 km (11 miles) south-east of the capital
  • it is also the only official border crossing with Somalia
  • French border outpost in Loyada was controlled by 13e DBLE legionnaires at that time

– the bus was parked in no man’s land between the French and Somali territory
– it was several tens of meters from the Somali border outpost
– the demands of hijackers were:

  • to release all imprisoned FLCS members
  • to end the French rule over the TFAI
  • if the French did not accede to their demands, they will kill all the children

– French Foreign legionnaires stationed in the TFAI were alerted
GIGN (National Gendarmerie Intervention Group) group was alerted in France

2nd Company, 2e REP moved to Loyada
– it was commanded by Captain Soubirou
– the company had been stationed in the TFAI since December 1975
– it was there under the terms of a short period mission (MCD)
– this mission lasts usually 4 months
– in the TFAI, the 2e REP company made part of the 13e DBLE
– temporarily, it became its Rotational Company
– 13e DBLE had been stationed in the territory since 1962

– 2e REP’s and 13e DBLE’s (1st Company) snipers were placed in an outpost of GNA
– GNA (Groupement Nomade Autonome) was a pro-French police unit
– the unit was formed by local volunteers and French cadres
– the GNA outpost was located some 250 m (270 yards) west of the bus
– 2e REP legionnaires took a position in the palm grove
– the palm grove was on the left side of GNA outpost

– HQ outpost of the mission was created also in the palm grove
– general Pierre Brasart took the command of the mission
– he was the commander of TFAI French Armed Forces at that time

– a peloton (platoon) of the French Motorized Gendarmerie (GM) joined the mission
– GM is a subdivision of France’s Gendarmerie (military force charged with police duties)
– the peloton was commanded by Master Sergeant Viard
– its vehicles were stationed several hundred meters/yards west of the bus

– in the afternoon, the 13e DBLE’s squadron reinforced the 2nd Company, 2e REP
Recon Squadron (ER) was based in the same distance as GM’s vehicles
– Recon Squadron of 13e DBLE was equipped with Panhard AML armored cars

Somali Army troops took a position behind the barbed wire on the Somali border

– in the evening, the Foreign Legion Task Force (GOLE) was alerted in Corsica
– it received an order to deploy to the TFAI
– GOLE was an intervention force organized in Corsica in 1971
– it consisted of HQ & Support company, 3 combat companies + 4th Squadron of 1er REC
– since 1972, GOLE was part of the 2e RE (future 2e REI)

 

2e REP - TFAI - Djibouti - December 1975
2nd Company/2e REP legionnaires conducting an exercise in the TFAI (December 1975). In a few weeks, they will be involved in the hostage rescue mission of Loyada.

 

4th February 1976

– 06:00 AM – GIGN group arrived in Loyada
– the group consisted of a group commander (lieutenant Prouteau) + 8 snipers
– GIGN is a highly trained counter-terrorist unit established in 1974
– for the unit, the Loyada mission was the very first operation conducted outside France
– GIGN snipers took a position in front of the palm grove

– the bus was still parked on the same place

– the FLCS kidnappers were reinforced by 3 men from the Somali side

– 12:00 PM – in Corsica, GOLE was reviewed before its depart for the TFAI

– 03:45 PM (15h45) – an order to rescue the children

– GIGN snipers shot a co-ordinated fire to kill all the kidnappers
– Somali machine guns opened fire
– simultaneously, 2e REP legionnaires launched a frontal attack
– the legionnaires run forward under fire
– 13e DBLE’s AMLs moved forward to eliminate the Somali machine guns
– two 2e REP groups sized the border, one group sized the bus
– the Somali machine guns were eliminated by 13e DBLE’s AMLs fire

– 04:05 PM (16h05) – the mission was terminated

– in Corsica, the depart of GOLE was postponed

 

RMLE - Régiment de Marche de la Légion Etrangère - 1916
A map of the rescue mission conducted in Loyada, published in a Képi blanc magazine. On the right, the Somali border with a Somali border outpost in the middle. In front of the outpost, the bus (marked as CAR) with the kidnapped children. The black half-rounds are Somali positions. Point A: position of the GIGN snipers. Behind, the palm grove with 2e REP legionnaires + operational HQ of general Brasart. There are 3 waves of the 2e REP attack. On the left, in the middle, the GNA outpost with 2e REP + 13e DBLE snipers. Several hundreds meters behind, the AMLs of 13e DBLE. During the attack, they launched two attacking waves to eliminate the Somali machine guns.
2e REP - TFAI - Djibouti - 1976 Loyada Hostage Rescue Mission - bus
The hijacked bus with the children in front of the Somali border outpost (February 4, 1976)
2e REP - TFAI - Djibouti - 1976 Loyada Hostage Rescue Mission - bus
The GNA outpost with 2e REP + 13e DBLE (1st Company) snipers (February 4, 1976)

 

Result of the mission

– 7 Somali FLCS militants killed

– 1 Somali soldier killed (an official statement)
– a Somali side stated in February 1976, that 6 Somali servicemen were killed during the attack

– 1 girl (Nadine Durand, aged 5) was killed

– 5 childern were wounded (2 of them seriously)

– the driver + female assistant were also wounded

Lieutenant Doucet was seriously wounded
– he was the then commander of 1st Platoon, 2nd Company, 2e REP

– 1 boy (Frank Rutkowski, aged 7) was kidnapped to Somalia
– he was released a few days later

Valérie Geissbuhler (aged ???) was among those two seriously wounded

  • this little girl was a granddaughter of a former legionnaire of German origin
  • she was sent quickly to France to the hospital in Paris
  • nevertheless, a few days later, she died from her injuries
  • she became the second and last victim of the hijacking
  • on February 13, she was buried in Aubagne
  • the town of Aubagne (southern France) is the main garrison of the Legion

– in the early morning of February 5, the GOLE departed for the TFAI
– GOLE was composed of the HQ + 6th Company + 4th Squadron, 1er REC
– three months later, still in the TFAI, six GOLE legionnaires were killed

– on February 6, all the rescued children moved to Paris

 

2e REP - TFAI - Djibouti - 1976 Loyada Hostage Rescue Mission - bus
Lieutenant Doucet, the wounded leader of the 1st Platoon, 2nd Company, 2e REP after arrival in France (February 10, 1976)

 
—-

Information & images source:
Képi blanc magazines
GIGN History (FR)
ITN Source (EN)
wikipedia.org

 

The page was updated on: February 04, 2016

 

↑ Back to Top