Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sri Lanka Cricket Team Attack by Terrorists in Lahore

Via Yahoo! News -

Gunmen attacked Sri Lanka's cricket team in a gun and grenade assault Tuesday in the Pakistani city of Lahore that killed eight people and wounded seven members of the squad.

The attack sparked condemnation from around the world and threw a massive question mark over the future of the game in the troubled nation -- a co-host for the 2011 cricket World Cup.

"The plan was apparently to kill the Sri Lankan team but the police came in the way and forced the attackers to run away," Lahore's police chief Habib-ur Rehman said.

"They appeared to be well-trained terrorists," he told reporters.

Rehman said up to 12 gunmen ambushed the team's convoy close to the Gaddafi stadium with rockets, hand grenades and automatic weapons, unleashing a fierce gunbattle with security forces.

The gunmen fled after the ambush, triggering a giant manhunt.

It was the first deadly attack against a sports team in this nuclear-armed country, where more than 1,600 people have died in a wave of Islamist attacks in less than two years, and where Al-Qaeda and Taliban shelter in its northwest.

Witnesses said the upmarket district of Lahore, home to many designer boutiques, was transformed into a battle zone as gunmen hidden behind trees opened fire in a sophisticated, coordinated attack.

"The bus came under attack as we were driving to the stadium," Sri Lanka's captain Mahela Jayawardene told Cricinfo.

"The gunmen targeted the wheels of the bus first, and then the bus. We all dived to the floor to take cover."

He said most of the team's injuries appeared to be minor and caused by debris, and said the players owed the bus driver their "lives" for his courage under fire.

It could have been worse -- Rehman said the attackers fired a rocket which missed the bus, then threw grenades underneath which failed to explode.

A police official said two civilians and six policemen guarding the players were killed in the attack as the team was heading for the third day's play in the second Test against Pakistan.


Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also strongly condemned the "terrorist" attack and ordered an inquiry.

Two air force helicopters evacuated the Sri Lankan team from the stadium to Lahore airport, from where they were to be flown home late Tuesday.

Experts defused two car bombs and recovered grenades, three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of explosives, a pistol and a detonating cable.

Blood stained the front seats of a vehicle used by Pakistan's elite force that had been assigned to protect the team, the van raked with gunfire with its wheels shot up and radio system disabled.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility although fears of an attack by Islamic militants linked to Al-Qaeda have caused many cricket teams to cancel tours to Pakistan in recent years.

Pakistani officials said the attack bore all the hallmarks of the November 2008 assault on the Indian city of Mumbai, which was blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic militants.

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