COVER

A team against terror

HILARY MACKENZIE May 26 1986
COVER

A team against terror

HILARY MACKENZIE May 26 1986

A team against terror

COVER

About 50km southwest of Ottawa, down an unmarked dirt road in a wooden shack, six terrorists were holding a blindfolded man hostage. Police negotiations to end the siege had failed and Solicitor General Perrin Beatty had decided to use force. In a stone building 200 m down the road, Canada's new 49member Special Emer gency Response Team (SERT) prepared to at tack. During the negoti ations, the team mem bers had rehearsed their assault on a cardboard mock-ut of the shack.

They had memorized the layout, the entry points and the handholds on the outside walls for a practice attack on a mock hostage taking.

Suddenly, a diversionary bomb explodes outside the terrorist hideout and four members of the SERT team storm the shack. Their Heckler and Koch submachine guns cocked, two of the team members pick off the six terrorists. Spent 9 mm brass cartridge casings richochet around the room.

Only paces behind, their 9 mm Saver pistols in hand, submachine guns at the ready, two other commandos move toward the hostage. In just three seconds he is dragged to safety. The team

backs out of the barn, weapons poised—mission accomplished. Although last week’s demonstration assault was mounted against “terrorists” made of particleboard, the team achieved its purpose: to show that Canada has a new weapon against terrorism. Since it was formed in March

under the RCMP, the SERT team has trained continuously—practising spider drops down the sides of buildings, storming aircraft under siege and learning to fire instinctively at an enemy’s head and heart. Declared Beatty after last week’s assault, performed near Carleton Place, Ont.: “We have to send a signal to international terrorists that we are prepared to defend Canadians.”

Canadians.”

Recruited from the RCMP’s existing emergency response teams across the country, commandos will spend three years with SERT based in the Ottawa area before returning to regular police duties. Two teams of 24 men will rotate on a monthly basis, one team on call and the other in training. The squad’s mandate is to resolve hostage incidents involving foreign diplomats in Ottawa or incidents elsewhere that are beyond the capabilities of regional or municipal police forces. Declared Beatty: “They are a weapon of last resort, brought in at the last moment when all else fails.”

Squad members were put through a rigorous selection process, including psychological tests, to determine their ability to withstand extreme stress.

The essential qualities: maturity, judgment, team spirit and an ability to deal with crisis situations. “Precisely the sort of person we would not want,” Beatty said, “is someone who saw himself as a Rambo.” Authorities insist that the squad is now ready to respond to any terrorist threat. And because of recent incidents, including a hostage taking at the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa last year and the June, 1985, sabotage of Air-India Flight 182, RCMP Commissioner Robert Simmonds maintained that Canada must take precautions. Declared Simmonds: “I hope we never need it. But with the state of the world as it is today, it would be irresponsible not to be prepared.”

-HILARY MACKENZIE in Ottawa