Elite swat teams tell of fight against crime from Bulgaria to the Big Apple

Highly trained officers lift the lid on life-or-death missions

Ivan Yordanov, right, leader of the Bulgarian team competing in the UAE’s Swat Challenge. Photo: Salam Al Amir.
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The leader of a Bulgarian special forces team has told of life in the firing line tracking down terrorists and carrying out life-saving hostage rescue operations.

Ivan Yordanov, part of the highly-skilled Bulgarian squad at the UAE’s Swat Challenge 2023, said a crucial factor in mission success is to never be afraid of being scared.

The father-of-one has served as an elite officer for 17 years and has headed up an accomplished crew of eight commandos for the past two years.

“Our most recent mission was linked to the latest terrorist attack in Istanbul,” Mr Yordanov told The National.

He said his team were called on to locate suspects who had fled from Turkey to Bulgaria.

“It was a very easy mission. We arrested them.

“This is our job, and everyone on the team feels happy when it's done right.”

Mr Yordanov said he is fuelled by the fear that is ever present when faced with danger.

“Everyone on the job feels scared and it's a good thing, because if you are afraid, then your focus is stronger and you are getting better,” he said.

“Any one who says they are not afraid, they are lying, but for us, we turn that fear into a power that makes us determined to accomplish the mission.”

Always on high alert

The Sofia-based team responds to a wide variety of different high-risk missions from random shootings to armed robberies, hostage rescue, aircraft hijackings and terrorist attacks.

In one mission in 2014, Mr Yordanov and his colleagues were in a fire fight with a former military officer.

“He sent a message that he intended to shoot children and when we arrived, he was heavily armed and expecting a Swat response,” said Mr Yordanov.

“In any mission that involves someone trying to kill children, it's just a horrible feeling all over.”

The man unleased an arsenal of deadly firepower at the officers, using a sniper rifle, an automatic machine gun and grenades.

“He killed one of our men and injured four others.”

The city where crime never sleeps

Expert officers in New York are confronted with huge challenges in a sprawling metropolis, which is home to more than eight million people.

As well as combating crime, they also seek to offer vital support to vulnerable members of society.

“Rescuing people going through an emotional crisis and trying to jump off a bridge or a building possibly 1,000 feet high, an officer tries to negotiate with the person to convince him out of it,” said Sergeant Antony Corsello, 37.

“All an officer thinks of at a moment like this, is the safety of that person.”

The officers work round the clock and respond to at least one mission a day.

For officer Burim Kadrijag, 33, who joined the team in 2019, being a Swat officer means being prepared for the unexpected.

“We deal with unexpected situations but the idea of knowing that we help people is rewarding by itself,” he said.

In April 2020, during the Covid-19 outbreak, Mr Kadrijag responded to a suicide attempt report.

“A man wanted to jump off, when we couldn’t talk him out of it, I seized the right moment, got hold of him and grabbed him to safety,” he said.

Being an officer is hard, but being an officer in a city like New York is even harder says Daniel Messia, 34.

“It's the changing nature of people and their number.

“It allows you to take more risks but the extensive training we receive prepares us to deal with high-risks.”

The UAE Swat Challenge is being held at Dubai Police's training centre in Al Rowaiyah until Friday.

More than 60 special task forces from around the globe compete in five tests — tactical, assault, officer rescues, tower events and obstacle courses — with a total prize fund of $170,000 on offer.

UAE Swat Challenge — in pictures

Updated: February 23, 2023, 11:08 AM