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Old 03-03-2009, 08:01 AM   #364
John W. Henry
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Default Gunmen attack Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan

LAHORE, Pakistan At least a dozen men attacked Sri Lanka's cricket team with rifles, grenades and rocket launchers Tuesday ahead of a match in Pakistan, wounding seven players, an umpire and an assistant coach. Six policemen and a driver were killed in the brazen assault on South Asia's most beloved sport.
Two players were hospitalized with bullet wounds that were not life-threatening and the umpire was in stable condition, officials said. Five other players and a British assistant coach had minor injuries.
In a coordinated attack, the assailants ambushed the convoy carrying the squad and match officials at a traffic circle 100 yards (meters) from the main sports stadium in the eastern city of Lahore, triggering a 15-minute gunbattle with police guarding the vehicles.
None of the attackers was killed or captured at the scene, city police chief Haji Habibur Rehman said. Authorities did not speculate on the identities of the attackers or their motives, but the chief suspects will be Islamist militants, some with links to al-Qaida, who have staged high-profile attacks on civilian targets before.
The attack reinforced perceptions that nuclear-armed Pakistan is veering out of control under terrorist assault. It will end hopes of international cricket teams or any sports teams playing in the country for months, if not years.
Sri Lanka had agreed to this tour allowing Pakistan to host its first test matches in 14 months only after India and Australia backed out of scheduled trips over security concerns.
Tuesday's attack came three months after the Mumbai terror strikes that killed 164 people. Those raids were allegedly carried out by Pakistan militants, and the assault in Lahore resembled them in many respects. Both were coordinated attacks, used multiple gunmen, apparently in teams of two, who were armed with explosives and assault rifles, carried backpacks and apparently had little fear of death or capture.
Authorities will also consider possible links to Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger separatist rebels who are being badly hit in a military offensive at home, though Sri Lankan military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said officials there did not believe the group was responsible.
Authorities canceled the test match against Pakistan's national team and the Lahore governor said the team was flying home. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa condemned the attack and ordered his foreign minister to immediately travel to Pakistan to help assist in the team's evacuation and ensure they are safe.
The attackers hit the team bus with automatic weapons from several locations and fired a rocket and a grenade that missed, witnesses and officials said. They did not manage to stop the vehicle something that likely saved the squad from a worse fate. Other vehicles traveling with or close to the convoy stopped.
TV footage of the attack showed at least two pairs of gunmen with backpacks firing from a stretch of grass and taking cover behind a small monument before moving on. It was taken from the offices of a Pakistani news channel overlooking the site of the ambush.
"These people were highly trained and highly armed. The way they were holding their guns, the way they were taking aim and shooting at the police, it shows they were not ordinary people," said Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province. "This is the same style as the terrorists who attacked Mumbai."
Other video showed damaged vehicles and unexploded grenades lying on the ground along with three bodies. An Associated Press reporter saw police handling what looked like two suicide jackets. Officers also recovered two backpacks apparently used by the attackers before fleeing, as well as walkie-talkies.
"It is a terrible incident, and I am lost for words," said Steve Davis, an Australian who was to have umpired the match.
Nadeem Ghauri, a Pakistani umpire who witnessed the attack, said the umpires were behind a bus of Sri Lankan players when suddenly they heard gunshots that lasted for 15 minutes. "Our driver was hit, and he was injured," he said.
Lahore police chief Rehman said "between 12 and 14 men" took part in the assault and they resembled Pashtuns, the ethnic group that hails from close to the Afghan border, the stronghold of al-Qaida and the Taliban. He said officers were hunting them down.
"Our police sacrificed their lives to protect the Sri Lankan team," he said.
Two Sri Lankan players Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavitana were being treated for injuries in a hospital but were stable, said Chamara Ranavira, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan High Commission.
Medical Superintendent of the Services Hospital, Mohammad Javed, told The Associated Press that a total of 15 wounded were admitted to the hospital.
Among them was umpire Ahsan Raza, whom Javed said was "seriously wounded." He added: "He has got one bullet in his abdomen that has damaged his internal parts."
Of the two players, Paranavitana was grazed by a bullet in the chest, and Samaraweera has a bullet wound in his thigh.
Team captain Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Suranka Lakmal and Chaminda Vaas had minor injuries, the Sri Lankan Cricket Board said. Ranavira said British assistant coach Paul Farbrace also sustained minor injuries.
Veteran batsman Sangakkara told Sri Lankan radio station Yes-FM that "all the players are completely out of danger."
Haider Ashraf, another police officer, said six policemen and a driver of a Pakistan Cricket Board vehicle were killed.
Three hours after the attack, at least Sri Lankan eight players and team officials left the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore on a Pakistani army helicopter that took off from the pitch. Wajira Wijegunawardena, the Sri Lankan cricket board's media manager, said the team planned to board a flight to Abu Dhabi later Tuesday and return to Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona said little could be done to stop such an attack.
"I think the Pakistani authorities have provided adequate security but as we know from experience ... there is never enough security to counter a well organized and determined terrorist group," Kohona said.
The Dubai-based International Cricket Council condemned the attack. ICC President David Morgan told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the organization had no role in deciding on whether Pakistan was safe enough for a tour.
"So long as the two countries are in agreement on safety and security, the ICC does not have a role," Morgan said.
One militant group likely to fall under particular suspicion is Lashkar-e-Taiba, the network blamed for the Mumbai terror attacks in November, in which 10 gunmen staged a three-day siege targeting luxury hotels, a Jewish center and other sites.
The group has been targeted by Pakistani authorities since then, and its stronghold is in eastern Pakistan.
In the past, India and Pakistan have blamed each other for attacks on their territories. Any allegations like that will trigger fresh tensions between the countries, which are already dangerously high.

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i would have thought tone would have mentioned this. this is fucked up for pakistan, their national sport is cricket. i doubt anyone is going there for a while.
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