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Service in the shadows

It is the job of Q7 to carry out operations considered too dangerous for regular police units.

His face still cannot be revealed and until today even the name of Corporal Yassin al Hosni had never been made public.

One of the country's top snipers, Cpl Hosni is a key member of the secretive anti-terror and serious crimes intervention squad known simply as "Q7".

"I protect people and serve my country in the shadows," he said in an exclusive interview as The National was given unprecedented access to his unit.

It is the job of Q7 to carry out operations considered too dangerous for regular police units. Typically these will include responses to hostage-taking, combating terrorism and dealing with major crimes usually involving firearms or other weapons.

Members of the unit agreed to speak only on condition that no details of past or present operations were revealed.

Now 38, Cpl Hosni joined Q7 in 1990 and believes he has one of the best jobs in the country.

Wearing his distinctive "zigzag" camouflage outfit and carrying a state of the art sniper rifle, he explained his passion for a job that is often done through the lens of his fitted telescopic sight.

"I like how it brings images closer and I have to concentrate and self-impose a great level of restraint and patience," he said.

Trim and confident, the Sharjah-born policeman likes to boast that he can stay in position for hours at a time, a whole day if necessary. "I am so patient and solid that people love having me as a friend," he said with a smile.

Formed in 1987, the unit is based in Abu Dhabi but, as the name indicates, covers all seven emirates, with the Q standing for qowa, or "force".

The commander is Lt Col Mubarak Abdullah al Muhayri, who describes his men as a Special Weapons And Tactics - or Swat - team.

"Secrecy is part of our weapon, where Swat members lay low and don't tell people outside what they do," he said. "Only in times of crisis do we come out."

The team consists of at least 500 men and Lt Col Muhayri advises would-be recruits that it is "a tough job".

Almost all of the squad are Emirati, with non-nationals restricted to non-operational roles.

Training is carried out with help from experts from all over the world including, at present, a team from the United States.

"We get something from each expert, then modify it to fit our traditions and culture," he said.

Members of the squad are ready to be called into action anywhere in the country. There are also specialised units trained to assist other police branches during riots, aircraft hijackings, kidnappings, bomb disposal operations and even family disputes that become violent.

They are also assigned to internal protection duties for leading members of the Government and important foreign visitors.

"Hidden security is more important than the obvious protection," Lt Col Muhayri said. He believes the unit owes its success to the special skills of its members.

"Sometimes we need just five men to carry out one operation," he said. "It is about expertise, not numbers."

Training begins with a rigorous test of physical, mental and emotional strengths that extends over six months and weeds out all but a handful of the dozens of young male applicants.

Those accepted are expected to commit themselves to the squad for the rest of their working lives.

"Out of every 50 that apply, only 10 get through the tests and join the force," Lt Col Muhayri said. "We are like a family here, where the Swat members stay in a dormitory, two in each room, and work together like brothers."

The result is what he calls the fittest team of men in the Emirates. "They challenge themselves and push their own limits," he said.

Born in Al Ain, Lt Col Muhayri has risen through the ranks during 20 years in Q7 and prides himself on his fitness at the age of 43. "I lived through what the young men are going through, and so I understand them and try to help them in any way I can," he said.

"There is time for family, and sometimes my wife is worried about me, given the dangerous aspect of my job, but that is life. These days car accidents are more dangerous."

Asked what motivated his men, he insisted: "We don't join the force for the fame. If anything, no one knows about us. It is about doing something for the country.

"The force builds our personality and is a great challenge to us mentally and physically."

Active duty ends when officers reach 35 after which they are transferred to administrative and training duties. Cpl Hosni's firearms expertise earns him an exemption.

Unlike similar units in the West, the Emirati Swat team allows its members to grow beards provided they are neatly trimmed.

Traditional dress has been discontinued for protection duties and replaced by suits with special pockets for guns.

Unit members are expected to stay in peak physical condition, with an emphasis on the "white weapon", a technique that involves using parts of the body and ordinary items such as keys or sticks to disable attackers rather than relying on firearms.

There is also a small number of female recruits, used on special operations where women and children are involved.

In a typical training session held recently, four members of Q7 prepared to jump from a helicopter hovering at a height of 12 metres.

The team included Sergeant Ibrahim al Dahmani, from Ras al Khaimah, who joined the force when he was 18 and is now a fighter on the front lines. Well over six feet tall, he has a striking physique that has earned him the nickname "Hercules".

Now 27, Sgt Dahmani remembers his initial training as one of the toughest six months of his life. "They put us through every imaginable and unimaginable scenario to train us to become fighters," he said.

Most members of Sgt Dahmani's family serve in the Army but as he put it: "I wanted to try something different."

At the unit's base neighbouring a BMW dealership near the Maqta Bridge, he enjoys a reputation as a good-natured joker and believes having a sense of humour is an important aid in relieving stress.

"During an operation, it becomes so intense that it is only natural that we turn to humour as a break," he said.

Lt Col Muhayri, his commander, warned that crime was evolving as society changed, adding: "We always have to be one step ahead of the criminals." But he offered a reassuring message on terrorism, describing its absence as one result of the UAE being a stable country.

In the near future, Q7 plans to unveil a new logo. "The image of the logo will embody our strength and reflect our secrecy," Lt Col Muhayri said.

Until then, he says, the message of the unit can be summed up in a few simple words: "We are proud to be of the UAE and to be here for the UAE."

 

Visit www.thenational.ae for more pictures of Q7 in action

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