Eight killed, six Sri Lankan cricketers hurt in Lahore terror attackMarch 3rd, 2009 - 8:37 pm ICT by IANS
Lahore/Colombo, March 3 (IANS) Masked terrorists armed with automatic weapons Tuesday opened relentless fire at the convoy of the Sri Lankan cricket team as it headed for Lahore’s Gaddafi stadium, killing eight people and injuring six players. A military helicopter later whisked the players to safety as Sri Lanka cancelled its Pakistan tour.
Six of those killed were police bodyguards meant to provide security to the team, while two bystanders also lost their lives as the terrorists spread mayhem in the area for almost 25 minutes.
Four persons have been arrested from Lahore’s Model Town area for their suspected involvement in the attack, with Geo TV saying: “Arms have been recovered from two of them”.
A group of 12 gunmen carrying rocket launchers and grenades targeted the team bus about 500 yards from Gaddafi stadium, where Sri Lanka was to play Pakistan on the third day of their second cricket test.
The attack, being compared to the 26/11 Mumbai carnage, was the biggest attack on foreigners ever since the attack on Marriott Hotel last September in which the Czech ambassador and three American marines were among the 53 people killed.
The attack affected the bourses with the Karachi Stock Exchange KSE 100 index dropping 1.5 percent to close at 5,596.49. The stock exchange dipped by over 3 percent at the beginning of trading when news of the attack started coming in. It later recovered slightly after reports that all the Sri Lankan players were safe.
In an inexplicable move, the Punjab provincial government initially said that the team bus was caught in a crossfire between two groups of land grabbers.
According to provincial governor Salman Taseer, the assault was the handiwork of the same terror group that had hit Mumbai.
“It was a planned terrorist act on the pattern of the attack on Mumbai. I believe the same terrorists are involved in both the incidents,” Taseer told reporters.
Another official, Lahore Commissioner Khushro Pervaiz, was quoted as saying that Indian involvement in the attack could not be ruled out.
The team bus, which came under attack at about 8.30 a.m. at the Liberty Market crossing close to the stadium, was riddled with bullets.
Sri Lankan cricket captain Mahela Jayawardene said that the players dived to the floor of the bus to take cover when the bus suddenly came under heavy fire.
“The bus came under attack as we were driving to the stadium, the gunmen targeted the wheels of the bus first and then the bus,” Cricinfo quoted Jayawardene as saying.
“We all dived to the floor to take cover. Five players have been injured and also Paul Farbrace (a member of the support staff), but most of the injuries appear to be minor at this stage and caused by debris,” he added.
Pakistan Cricket Board sources said the van carrying the match umpires also came under attack, leaving the umpires’ liaison officer Abdul Sami injured. One of the umpires, Ahsan Raza, was reported to be critically injured.
Qasim, a resident of Lahore, told Dawn.com that he was in his office, located near the site of the attack, when he heard the first blast at 8:30 a.m.
A grenade had been thrown at the bus but it landed about 20 feet away. A second grenade was hurled under the bus but the driver managed to manoeuvre the vehicle to ensure the team wasn’t hurt, he added.
According to Qasim, three or four men started firing at the bus shortly after the grenade attack.
“They were just firing everywhere,” he said.
According to Lahore police chief Habibur Rehman, the attackers “had come by rickshaws”.
All the attackers made good their escape, leaving behind a huge quantity of weapons and ammunition. A car suspected to have been used by the attackers was seized.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned the attack and asked the authorities concerned to immediately investigate the incident so that the perpetrators are identified and their “motives exposed”.
The terror attack sparked outrage in Sri Lanka, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa instructing that the players be brought home immediately.
Rajapaksa, who cut short his three-day visit to Nepal, “unequivocally condemned the cowardly terrorist attack”.
The Sri Lankan High Commission said in a statement: “Members of the Sri Lankan Cricket Team have received minor injuries including Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Suranga Lakmal and Thilina Thushara and Assistant Coach Paul Farbrace. Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavitana have been admitted to the Lahore Hospital.”
Later, Samaraweera and Paranavitana were brought back to the stadium and flown to the airport on a Pakistan Air Force helicopter for their return journey to Colombo.
Most of the other players had already been flown to Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore to be flown back home.
The Sri Lankan team was in Pakistan to play in place of India that had pulled out of the series after the Nov 26-29 Mumbai carnage that was blamed on Pakistani terrorists.
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