Lahore: Six Sri Lankan cricketers and their British assistant coach were wounded when gunmen attacked their bus as it drove under police escort on Tuesday to a stadium in the Pakistani city of Lahore, officials said.
Lahore Police chief Habib-ur-Rehman said five police were killed in the attack by unidentified gunmen, who fired AK 47s and rockets and hurled grenades at the bus as it slowed at a traffic circle near the 60,000-seater Gaddafi stadium.
Witnesses saw gunmen with rifles and backpacks running through the streets and firing on people and vehicles around the massive stadium in the morning attack.
“I saw them from the window of my office firing at the police escort first. When the police dispersed after the shooting, they started firing at the bus of Sri Lankan team,” Mohammad Luqman told Reuters.
Punjab governor Salman Taseer told reporters the assailants had been surrounded after being chased into a nearby commercial and shopping area. A massive security sweep was taking place across the city.
A video grab shows gunmen firing in the direction of a police vehicle. Six members of the Sri Lankan cricket squad were wounded when around a dozen gunmen attacked their bus as it drove under police escort to a stadium in Lahore on 3 March 2009. Reuters photo
The attack highlights Pakistan seeming inability to defeat terrorism spreading inside and outside the country and comes at a time when the United States is putting pressure on the government to do more to fight the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
It had echoes of an attack on Mumbai last November in which 179 people died and which led to the Indian cricket team cancelling its planned tour of Pakistan.
“One thing I want to say it’s the same pattern, the same terrorists who attacked Mumbai,” said governor Taseer.
Also Read Quotes on attack (PDF)
Pakistan’s civilian government has lurched into political crisis less than a year since ex-army chief Pervez Musharraf was forced to quit as president, and the country is braced for street agitation by opposition parties in coming days.
“Who would want to invest in Pakistan?”
“This is not only an attack on the Sri Lankan team but on Pakistan,” said Shuja Rizvi, director of broking at Capital One Equities Ltd. “Who would want to invest then in Pakistan?”
The Karachi Stock Exchange benchmark 100-share index was down 1.5% at 5,596.32 at 12:30 am.
India blamed the Mumbai attack on Pakistan-trained terrorists and the incident sharply raised tension between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
The group blamed by India, Lashkar-e-Taiba, came from Pakistan’s Punjab province, whose capital is Lahore.
A spokesman for the Sri Lanka High Commission in Islamabad said six players were wounded along with assistant coach Paul Farbrace, a Briton.
Sri Lankan and Pakistan media said Thilan Samaraweera seemed to be the worst hit, suffering a thigh injury. The other Sri player admitted to hospital was Tharanga Paranavithana.
Reserve umpire Ehsan Raza was also critically wounded, according to Ejaz Butt, chairman of Pakistan’s Cricket Board. It was unclear whether their injuries were caused by bullets, shrapnel or flying shards of glass.
Sri Lanka, which had been invited to Pakistan after India pulled out, immediately cancelled the rest of the tour.
“We are planning to have them airlifted out from there, and then evacuated to Sri Lanka on the first available flight,” foreign secretary Palitha Kohona told Reuters in Colombo.
It was the second day of their second Test match and being played at the venue where Sri Lanka won cricket’s world cup in 1996, beating Australia in the final.
Until this series Pakistan had gone without Test cricket for more then a year because of security concerns.
In 2002, a bomb exploded in Karachi while the New Zealand cricket team were touring, killing 13 people, including 11 French navy experts.
In that incident the New Zealand cricketers were also preparing to drive to the stadium when the car bomb exploded. They called off the tour within hours of the attack.