Lieutenant Latifa Al Salman takes a slow, deep breath as she steadies herself.
Clutching a sniper rifle that's almost her height, she squeezes the trigger, sending a deadly round into a target bullseye several hundred yards away.
This may be a drill, but the rounds are real — and her all-women team is ever-ready to tackle the real deal.
The National was granted exclusive access to watch the first female Swat team train to take on terror threats and criminal elements.
The elite team train at a facility just outside the city and were getting ready for another drill.
It was time for them to breach a compound and neutralise a threat. The team members get in a line and knock down the door as they train to handle a terrorist or hostage-like situation.
Lt Salman then makes her way to a firing range. She has been on sniper training. She and her team cross hurdles, jump off buildings and fire shots at the bullseye on the target.
And there's one emotion that drives them — patriotism and their resolve to protect their country.
These Swat-trained officers have played in the national football team, are jiu-jitsu champions, can knock down doors, are sharpshooters, can rescue hostages and were chosen to protect A-list celebrities visiting the UAE.
Just last week, they beat 10 men's teams in the preliminary round of the UAE Swat Challenge to claim the runners-up spot.
The team of these highly trained elite women police officers in Dubai have created their right place in a man’s world.
They were faster and better than their male colleagues in dealing with emergency situations that required immense physical and mental strength.
The 11-member team will now participate in next month's international Swat challenge when elite police officers from around the world will come to the Emirates to compete.
'I want to head Dubai Police one day'
The team leader Lt Latifa Al Salman is just 23, but hopes to become the chief officer of the Dubai Police one day.
Her hands are bruised because of the rigorous training and her skin is tanned, but she loves what her job entails.
Ambitious and determined, Al Salman defied all odds. She faced some opposition and received support from others, and today leads the only all-women Swat team in the country.
It was not an easy start for Lt Al Salman as her mother opposed the idea of her joining the police force, she said.
“She didn’t find it feminine, but my uncles who work with the police managed to convince her,” Lt Al Salman said.
She said while she was proud of her own achievements, she saw this only as the beginning.
“My ambition is to become the first female commander-in-chief of the Dubai Police,” she told The National.
Her first role was with the VIP protection unit where she learnt how to deal with VIPs, respond to emergencies, shoot accurately and carry out raids.
She joined the force in 2020 after graduating from the Dubai Police Academy with a bachelor’s degree in law and police sciences.
She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in security and strategic studies from the American University in the Emirates.
“I have always been a sports enthusiast and played in the national football team when I was in school. Now I play in the national padel tennis team,” she said.
Protecting celebrities to arresting most wanted criminals
Officer Fatma Al Mamari, 39, has provided security to Hollywood celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce and Shakira on their visit to the UAE.
She started her career with Dubai Police’s VIP protection unit in 2005 and has now moved on to combat and high-risk search and rescue operations.
She has had extensive training over the years and has taken part in several raids carried out by the force’s Swat team, which she said had arrested “some of the world’s most wanted criminals”.
“I remember in an eight-month long training we were shot at as part of the training,” she said.
“They used electric shocks to replace bullets, I remember the pain and the red marks on my skin but it made me tougher.”
In 2017, she received the International Association of Chiefs of Police award from the US, which recognises 40 law enforcement professionals under the age of 40 from around the world.
Ms Al Mamari said she was lucky to receive support from her family and in particular from her father.
“He was a military man and encouraged me to join the force, advising me to show my best and learn the most,” she told The National.
“During my work with the VIP protection unit, some of the missions involved protecting celebrities.”
“The toughest part was dealing with fans. But everything I did and learnt prepared me to be part of this team.”
Bride to be is also a jiu-jitsu and weightlifting champion
Team member Roudha Al Blooshi, 30, is a workout fanatic.
“My journey began when I was 19 and I challenged myself to shed some weight,” she said.
She learnt jiu-jitsu and weightlifting and participated in several competitions.
“This team is a dream come true for me and when I was nominated to join, I received immense support from my family and my fiance.”
She urged more Emirati women to join.
“Even if they do not wish to join, I hope to see them working out and taking up sports as a part of their daily lifestyle,” she said.
Her wedding will take place after the Dubai Police Swat Challenge and she hopes she will be celebrating two achievements — winning and tying the knot.
“Our love for sport and police tactics teamwork brought us together,” she said. “I hope to raise my children to be the same.”
Women in the field want to dismantle criminal networks
For Khadija Al Farsi, 28, it was hard at first but she was determined to challenge herself.
“I lost weight and trained hard every day to improve and become one of the best in this field,” she said.
Another officer Shaikha Al Zamani, 29, participated in several physical training sessions to boost her fitness level.
“My passion has always been to be on the field and not desk work. This is why I took part in almost all training exercises the force offered,” she said.
Her performances caught the attention of senior officers who then nominated her to join the Swat team.
“I dream of becoming part of an international Swat team that dismantles criminal networks,” she said.
Talking about the women officers, First Lt Yaser Al Zarouni said their performance is commendable while competing in a male-dominated field, showing determination and commitment.
“They arrive earlier and never rush home after the training,” he said. “They sometimes outperform their male counterparts.”
It will be the only all-women team among more than 40 teams taking part in next month's Dubai Police Swat Challenge.
While some international teams also have women members, it will be the first all-women team to participate at such an event.
“They are ready for the challenge,” said Mr Al Zarouni.
“We hope to increase the number of women elite officers next year and announce a second team.”
The police special tactics team comprises women from different nationalities but more Emirati women are being encouraged to join, he added.
What is UAE Swat Challenge?
The challenge is organised by the Dubai Police and is held under the patronage of Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior.
It first started in 2019. Different teams from Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as squads from Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and the Ministry of Interior usually take part.
The five-day event aims to promote co-operation and understanding between international Swat teams, highlighting the best practice.
There are five tests — tactical, assault, officer rescues, tower events and obstacle courses — designed to assess the tactical skills, mental focus and physical endurance of the participating teams.
And every year, before the main international challenge, teams in the Emirates compete against each other to prepare for the Swat Challenge.
Last year, 41 special task forces from 21 countries took part in five tests.