Sharpshooting women on target

More than 260 marksmen compete in the 29th annual Ministry of Interior shooting competition in Ras al Khaimah.

Competitors sprint and shoot at the Ministry of Interior's police shooting championships in Ras al Khaimah yesterday.
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RAS AL KHAIMAH // Sitting on the crest of a sand dune, scrutinising the scene below through her pink-tinted sunglasses, the policewoman does not look terribly fearsome - but don't let the shades or the burgundy lipstick fool you.

Afra Mubarak, of the Abu Dhabi Police, is one of the country's best marksmen. Mrs Mubarak, 37, returned to Ras al Khaimah yesterday to join a field of 265 marksmen in the 29th annual Ministry of Interior shooting competition.

The event featured 10 teams from the Immigration Department, the Special Forces, police academies and police departments across the country, testing their skills with 9mm pistols and M16 rifles.

Mrs Mubarak was one of the first women to participate when the competition was opened to females in 2005, and she scored near perfect marks - 229 points out of a possible 230.

"I love to shoot," she said. "It's important for a policeman to be a good shooter. If the country asks you to be ready to defend, I will be ready."

Mrs Mubarak joined the police at age 18. She found her calling seven years ago when she began training as a marksman. Nonetheless, the mother of two hopes her 14-year-old daughter will choose an easier career path.

She also plays the mother role for the younger women on her team, calling them together on a sand dune for a greeting kiss and a pep talk as the male competitors enjoy the shade of the tents.

Her friends Amna al Ali, 33, and Fatima al Khaiyali, 35, are both veterans of the event. The trio have taken the top three places in the championship before and hope to repeat their success this year.

"It's challenging and not like any other sport," Mrs al Ali said. "You have to be very, very relaxed. As for your muscles, it makes you strong."

The team does two months of gruelling training before they begin eight months of target practice for at least four hours a day.

Although Mrs al Ali dismisses the effort involved, it is becoming a necessity as the sport's popularity has risen with women. There are seven women's teams this year from Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah and RAK. There were only three women's teams in 2005.

Mrs Mubarak is with a team of 45 police from Abu Dhabi, including eight women. The female contestants are trained by Lt Khamis Said, who learned how to shoot with an air rifle in the desert at the age of 13, and had to become proficient if he wanted to have dinner.

"Before, we couldn't go to the souq and get food," Lt Said, from Al Ain, said. "We had to hunt and eat birds, rabbits, gazelle."

Yesterday's tournament opened with pairs shooting 9mm pistols. Each shooter has 12 bullets to hit seven 20-centimetre targets from a distance of 15 metres and has to complete three positions and sprints in less than two minutes.

Categories not open to women include shooting M16 rifles at 100-metre targets - instead they compete with 9mm pistols at 30-metre targets. Lt Said said he expected big results from Mrs Mubarak.

"She is a long time training and has the experience," he said. "Others have experience but they can't make the shot. If you don't have a mind for what you do, you will lose."

The women will be going up against the likes of Juma'a al Kindi, 29, one of the country's fastest and best marksmen.

Mr al Kindi, originally from Kalba, is the son of a famous sharpshooter who was accidentally shot and killed at a range while his mother was pregnant with Juma'a. His mother now objects so strongly to the sport that he has yet to tell her he joined the Abu Dhabi team three years ago.

"He respects this sport too much," said Lt Said. "The people here do care not for money or gifts or anything. They just want competition, to make themselves better."

The women will compete on Thursday to qualify for finals on March 3. The competition will last 10 days.