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Little headway in Lahore ambush
Dozen suspects arrested; reward of $1,25,000 announced for info on assailants
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

Police in Lahore has arrested around dozen suspects (24 according to PTI) in connection with Tuesday’s brazen assault on Sri Lankan cricket team, even as the team of highly professional investigators is yet to make any significant breakthrough in the case. “The arrests have been made in the hope of garnering leads, though no one among the detained is directly involved in the attack,” Lahore police chief Haji Habibur Rehman told reporters in Lahore on Wednesday.

An interior ministry official in Islamabad also confirmed that the investigators have made little headway, but said next couple of days were crucial as massive manhunt has been launched to nab the perpetrators. However, the adviser to interior Rehman Malik sounded more sanguine, claiming that sufficient information has been received regarding a dozen individuals involved in the attack.

“The intelligence agencies, including the FIA and IB, are investigating the incident. They have been asked to submit an initial report within 48 hours,” he said, while talking to mediapersons outside the Parliament. The Punjab government has offered a reward of around $125,000 for information on the attackers, who were armed with AK 47s, hand grenades and rocket launchers

Meanwhile, critics have flayed President Zardari for being unable to manage country’s multiplying problems. Salman Taseer, who assumed the charge of chief executive after imposition of emergency last week, has also come under a lot of flak for failure to provide security to the visiting team because of his preoccupation with politics. The drastic reshuffle in the police and administration after imposition of governor’s rule last week led to a situation where the newly appointed heads were ill-prepared to focus on security of the cricketers, said sources. Former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif said if Zardari’s replacement administration “had not spent all their time planning how to buy up enough MPs to form their government in Punjab, this might never have happened.”

The former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan told ITV News: “It’s the government of Punjab which is responsible for this shocking incident. They provided a below average security to the visitors after assuring them proper cover. A normal minister in Pakistan … would have got better security than was provided to Lankans.”

The investigators are engaged in unravelling several aspects of the Incident, including identity of attackers, security lapses, if any, internal and external links of the terrorists and failure of intelligence agencies to detect the presence of such a large number of armed terrorists. Around six police vehicles were part of the convoy escorting the Lankan team to Gaddafi Stadium. But no additional security was deployed along the route. The visitors took the same route to stadium for three days and authorities did not take the usual precaution of changing it. Preliminary investigation indicated that the assailants had planned to hijack the bus but they could do so because of the remarkable presence of mind shown by the bus driver Khalil.

The political fallout of the audacious terrorist attack is also being hotly debated in the capital. In diplomatic terms, the episode has enormously undermined the country’s already bleak image abroad. There is also virtual certainty that Pakistan’s days of hosting test cricket are over. Analysts also apprehended that attack in the heartland of Punjab, the army’s traditional stronghold and the most populous province, looked like an open challenge to the army chief General Ashfaque Kayani, who returned this week from US visit. He held two lengthy sessions of talk with President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

New footage of attackers

A new footage of three suspected Lahore attackers out of a dozen, who sprayed the bus in which Sri Lankan cricketers were travelling with bullets, was aired today by a Pakistani television channel.

Geo TV aired the new footage of three suspected terrorists with backpacks, one on a motorcycle, scurrying into a by-lane near Liberty Chowk.

“The footage reveals that attackers carried out the heinous act with full impunity. They started firing indiscriminately on cricketers bus at 8.39 am yesterday and managed to flee from the spot at 8.46 am,” a report related to the airing of footage on the channel’s website said.

The footage also showed attackers in groups who were carrying heavy bags. According to CCTV footage, attackers had sophisticated weapons. — PTI

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