Sri Lankan cricketers wounded in Pakistan attack

Six members of the Sri Lankan cricket squad were wounded when about a dozen gunmen attacked their bus as it drove under police escort on Tuesday to a stadium in the Pakistani city of Lahore, witnesses and officials said.

Lahore Police chief Habib-ur-Rehman said five people were killed in the attack by the unidentified gunmen, who fired AK-47s and rockets and hurled grenades as the team bus drove to the 60 000-seater Gaddafi stadium in the eastern city.

Sri Lanka’s sports minister said five players and an assistant coach were wounded, two of whom were being treated in hospital.

”It was a terrorist attack and the terrorists used rocket launchers, hand grenades and other weapons,” Rehman said, adding that the police were hunting down the attackers who managed to flee. ”Our police sacrificed their lives to protect the Sri Lankan team.”

He said one wounded player was hit in the leg while another received a bullet in the chest.

Rehman said 12 masked gunmen were involved in the attack.

The attack in Lahore came at a time of unrest in both Pakistan and Sri Lanka, both of whom are trying to defeat insurgencies. It was unclear who was behind the assault, but it appeared to have been carefully coordinated.

The attack had echoes with one on the Indian city of Mumbai in November which led to the Indian cricket team cancelling its planned tour of Pakistan.

India blamed that attack on Pakistan-trained militants and the incident sharply raised tension between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

Sri Lanka, which had been invited to Pakistan after India pulled out, immediately cancelled the rest of the tour.

”We are trying to bring the team back as quickly as possible. The test match has been cancelled,” a Sri Lankan cricket official said on Tuesday.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairperson Ijaz Butt confirmed that the ”Test match has been officially called off”.

Pakistani authorities were providing helicopters to evacuate the Sri Lankan team, which announced they would return home immediately.

”We are providing helicopters to evacuate the team from the ground to an air base from where they will leave,” Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province of which Lahore is the capital, told reporters.

”We are going to catch these terrorists one way or the other,” he said.

Pakistan TV on Tuesday showed footage of gunmen with rifles and backpacks running through the streets and firing on unidentified vehicles. It showed the team’s white van with its front window shattered as security officials tried to gain control of the scene.

The driver of the Sri Lankan team coach said one of the attackers had thrown a grenade under the bus, but it did not detonate.

A witness told Reuters he believed two police commandos were killed along with a regular policeman and a traffic warden.

Shopkeeper Ahmed Ali said the two police commandos had been driving behind the team bus when they were hit.

”It was a very heavy firing and I heard at least two explosions at the time,” said a Reuters witness who had been on his way to cover the test match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Cricketer Thilan Samaraweera seemed to be the worst hit, suffering a thigh injury, a player on the team bus who did not wish to be identified told Reuters by phone.

It was unclear whether injuries were caused by bullets, shrapnel or flying shards of glass. — Reuters and Sapa

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