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04 Mar 2009 12:09
Police detained several suspects in the attack on Sri Lanka’s cricket team in Pakistan, but said on Wednesday they had made no progress in tracking the group of gunmen that wounded seven players and killed six police guarding them.
Tuesday’s attack in the eastern city of Lahore came at a time of mounting political turmoil in the nuclear-armed country and will add to fears it is losing the battle against Islamist extremists blamed for a series of high-profile attacks.
Senior police official Haji Habibur Rehman said police raided locations in Lahore and surrounding districts and arrested “some suspects”. He gave no details of their alleged roles, or the precise number detained, but said some were picked up at a Lahore hostel, where bloodstained clothes were also found.
“We are after them, and we hope that God willing we will soon get a result,” he told the GEO TV station.
He confirmed the arrests to the Associated Press, adding “so far we have not made any headway toward the perpetrators”.
Pakistani police have a poor record of investigating terrorist attacks and often round up people in the immediate aftermath of assaults who are never charged.
In the commando-style assault, up to 14 heavily armed and well-trained gunmen sprayed the Sri Lankan bus with bullets and rocket and grenade fire as it travelled to a match against Pakistan.
The bus sped through the ambush and reached the safety of the stadium.
“Our guys were getting hurt and screaming, but we couldn’t help each other,” Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene said when the team arrived home in Colombo early on Wednesday.
Veteran Sri Lanka spinner Muttiah Muralitharan spoke of the chaos on the bus during the attack.
“All the while bullets were being sprayed at our bus, people around me were shouting,” he said. “I am glad to be back.”
But Jayawardene added that growing up in Sri Lanka, which has seen scores of terrorist attacks related to the country’s civil war, meant the players had a “natural instinct” that made them immediately hit the floor at the first sound of gunfire.
“We are used to hearing, seeing these things. Firing, bombings. So we ducked under our seats when the firing began,” Jayawardene told reporters.
The assault bore many similarities to last year’s three-day hostage drama in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai.
Working in pairs, the attackers carried walkie-talkies and backpacks stuffed with water, dried fruit and other high-energy food—a sign they anticipated a protracted siege and may have been planning to take the players hostage, an official said.
None of the gunmen were killed, and all apparently escaped into this teeming city after a 15-minute gunbattle with the convoy’s security detail.
Authorities have not speculated on the identities of the attackers, but President Asif Ali Zardari said the assault showed “once again the evil we are confronting” in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.
Pakistan’s Punjab provincial government took out advertisements in newspapers on Wednesday offering a $125 000 reward.
The ad showed two alleged attackers, one dressed in brown and the other blue, and both carrying backpacks and guns. The image was taken from TV footage of the event.
Besides the six police officers, a driver of a vehicle in the convoy was also killed. Seven Sri Lankan players, a Pakistani umpire and a coach from Britain were wounded, none with life-threatening injuries.
FBI director Robert Mueller arrived in the capital Islamabad and was meeting with government officials on a trip arranged before Tuesday’s attack, the United States embassy said, giving no details.
By targeting a much-loved sport in Pakistan and elsewhere in South Asia, the gunmen were certain to draw international attention to Pakistan’s inability to provide basic security The attack ended Pakistan’s hopes of hosting international cricket teams—or any high-profile sports events—for months, if not years.
Even before Tuesday, most cricket squads chose not to tour the country for security reasons. India and Australia had cancelled tours, and New Zealand said on Tuesday it would most likely call off its December tour.
The International Cricket Council said it would review Pakistan’s status as co-host of the 2011 World Cup.
Pakistan has a web of militant networks, some with links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which have staged other high-profile strikes in a bid to destabilise the government and punish it for its support of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
One group likely to fall under suspicion is Lashkar-e-Taiba, the network blamed for the November Mumbai attacks, in which 10 gunmen targeted luxury hotels, a Jewish centre and other sites, killing 164 people.
The group has been targeted by Pakistani authorities since then, and its stronghold is in eastern Pakistan.—Sapa-AP
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