Terror strikes Lankan team
In a brazen attack on a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, a dozen masked gunmen wounded six players and a British coach and killed at least six Pakistanis (eight as per Reuters), including five police escort. Among those killed included the driver of the bus in which Australian umpires were travelling and which was immediate behind the team bus.
Two team members, Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavitana, were sent to hospital and were discharged after surgery. The team ended its Pakistan tour and flew back home in the evening.
Officials said 12 attackers were involved in the daring ambush and all of them escaped after carrying out their operation with lightening speed that was likened to deadly terrorist attack in Mumbai attack on November 26.
The attackers, two of whom were shown in TV pictures carrying backpacks, appeared well trained. It was a sophisticated operation that was launched by one attacker firing a cricket-propelled grenade to create a diversion before others approached to spray bullets on the convoy from all sides of the roundabout. They later sped away, leaving grenades and rocket launchers in a stolen car parked near the scene of the attack.
Though the police arrested five suspects along with weapons while the latter were travelling in a car a few miles away, the officials were unsure if any of them was actually involved in the incident.
The attack, which has dealt a body blow to Pakistan cricket, took place at the square of Lahore’s Liberty Market in posh Gulberg area, around 500 metres from the Qaddafi stadium where the test match was being played.
Bus driver Khalil swiftly sped away the vehicle from the scene while the gunmen were showering bullets all around it. "When the firing started, one of the players shouted 'go, go, go' and somehow I kept my cool, ducked and pressed the accelerator and sped the bus towards the stadium,” Khalil later told reporters. “They were skilled and they knew what they wanted. God helped us because they also threw a grenade under the bus, which exploded after the bus had passed over it,” he said.
The attack was widely condemned by political leaders, cricketers and all segments of Pakistani society. President Asif Zardari has ordered an investigation into the incident.
Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has expressed deep anguish and called for an investigation into what appeared to be a serious security lapse. Punjab province police chief Khwaja Khalid said the 12 attackers, armed with rocket launchers, hand grenades, Kalashnikovs and mousers, arrived at the scene from different directions in rickshaws.
He said the attackers were young men in their early twenties and appeared like ‘Pathans’, hence signifying that insurgent tribesmen fighting the Pakistan army in the tribal belt along Afghanistan border might be involved. But critics, including Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and deposed Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, blamed the government for the security lapse.
Lahore, March 3
India were originally scheduled to be in Pakistan for a Test tour in January-February but the trip was cancelled after the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai. The Indian government refused to permit Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men to travel to the troubled country citing security fears.
Pakistan, deprived of international cricket on home turf for long after steady refusals by teams like Australia and New Zealand to play there, desperately searched for a replacement.
Sri Lanka Cricket, then headed by Arjuna Ranatunga, stepped in to help the beleaguered nation’s cause and agreed to a split tour, which now stands cancelled after the attacks.
Ranatunga was subsequently sacked from his post but the decision to tour Pakistan by the SLC headed by him was not revoked.
The Lankans played a one-day series in January, which was free of any untoward incident, and came back for the Test series in the middle of last month after losing an equally hastily scheduled one-day series against India at home.
The successful conduct of the split tour by Mahela Jayawardene’s men would have helped Pakistan convince the cricketing fraternity that the country is safe to play.
But the images of gunmen going on a firing spree right outside a stadium and getting away with it as well, has all but shattered the immediate future of Pakistan as a sporting venue.
The tragedy could have been averted had the Lankans not come for the hurriedly-arranged series. — PTI