Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Sri Lankan cricketers injured in terror attack in Pakistan
Eight Sri Lankan cricketers were injured and at least eight people killed in a terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan. By Isambard Wilkinson in Lahore, Pakistan and Dean Nelson in New Delhi, India Last Updated: 12:19PM GMT 03 Mar 2009 The ambush on the national team, which was on its way by coach to the Gaddafi Stadium to play a test match Pakistan, was launched by up to 12 heavily armed gunmen. The dead included six policemen. The terrorists bore a striking resemblance in style to the ten men who carried out last November's Mumbai attacks. They were smartly dressed, carried ammunition in backpacks and were armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. The former England cricket stars Chris Broad, the match referee, and Dominic Cork, a match commentator, spoke of their terror after the commando-style gunmen attacked the coach. Mr Broad, who was travelling in a car behind the Sri Lankan coach, told friends he had been terrified when the gunmen opened fire at his car, killing his driver and leaving him spattered in blood. Mr Cork vowed never to visit Pakistan again, as veteran Pakistani cricketers said they feared the attacks had killed international cricket in the country. The gunmen struck at just after 8.30 am local time as the coach carrying the Sri Lankan team and other vehicles in the convoy were about to turn at a roundabout en route to the stadium for the test match with Pakistan. The bus driver, Mehar Mohammad Khalil, said: "I was turning the bus towards the stadium near the main roundabout when I saw a rocket fired at us ... it missed us and hit an electric pole after which all hell broke loose." Mr Khalil's quick reactions may have saved lives, as he steered the bus away from the shooting and dashed across the final 500 yards separating the Liberty roundabout - the site of the attack - from the Gaddafi Stadium. "When the firing started one of the players shouted 'go, go' and somehow I kept my cool, ducked and pressed the accelerator and sped the bus towards the stadium," he said. "They were skilled and they knew what they wanted. God helped us because they also threw a grenade under the bus which exploded after the bus had passed over it." The gunmen, who fought a 25-minute battle with the police before making their escape, were described as "smart, and with short hair, rather than bearded militants". Among the injured Sri Lankan players were Mahela Jayawardene - the team captain - Kumar Sangakkara, Ajhanta Mendis, Thilan Samaraweera, Tharanga Paranavithana, while their English assistant coach, Paul Farbrace, was also injured. None of them were seriously hurt. But Samaraweera and Farbrace were the only members of the group to receive significant hospital treatment, with Samaraweera suffering a shrapnel wound to his leg. They were both later released. The team was taken first to the Gadaffi stadium, close to Lahore's busy Liberty Market, and was later airlifted by helicopter and was due to take a flight out of the country. Mr Cork, who played 37 test matches for England, said he had met the Sri Lankan party and match official Chris Broad at the stadium, where they relived their ordeal. Mr Broad, who had been travelling in a car behind the Sri Lankan team bus, was with fellow officials Simon Taufel, Steve Davies and Nadeem Chauri, when the attack began. Although they were unhurt, they had been terrified by the attack, and, according to Mr Cork, Mr Broad had told him it had been "the most frightening experience of his life". "Their driver was shot and Chris Broad was on the floor apparently pleading with a police officer to drive them because the Sri Lankan bus had gone and they were on their own with terrorists outside," said Mr Cork. Speaking to the Telegraph from his hotel room as he prepared to leave Pakistan, he said: "We were five minutes ahead of them. We had just arrived in the commentary box when we heard two explosions and gunfire. We realised something was wrong when the Sri Lankan bus didn't follow us. That's when we realised this was a serious incident and we were told not to go down to the function room and to lock the doors. "Chris Broad was in a motorcade behind and their driver got shot dead. They all hit the ground. The fourth umpire who was sitting in the bus got hit with a bullet in his neck. He is apparently quite seriously injured in hospital," he said. While lying on the floor of their vehicle, they had tried to move the dead driver, whose foot was stuck revving the accelerator and tried to drive the bus away themselves, he added. "Seeing Chris with blood all over his ICC shirt and a glazed look on his face, I felt for him and I just went up to him and said 'Look, I'm really sorry'. It's a shocking situation that has happened and one that will live with me for a long time," he said. The Sri Lankan players were also in a state of shock. "They all fell to the floor of the team bus when the attack happened ... I won't be coming back here while I'm still living, there is no chance. I don't think international cricket should return to this country," he said. His comments came a week after he and Sri Lankan coach Trevor Bayliss praised the security arrangements in Pakistan and urged other international teams to play there. Last night serious doubts were raised over the future of international cricket matches in Pakistan. "It is so sad all this carnage and terror. What is worse is that all the fears expressed by foreign teams about coming to Pakistan have been proved correct. Pakistan cricket will take a long time to recover now," said former Pakistan captain Javed Miandad. Ikram Sehgal, a security analyst in Pakistan for Group Four, said the attack had been deliberately aimed at stopping future sporting events from taking place in Pakistan. "Obviously the idea was that the message be sent to the rest of the world that Pakistan is not a safe place to go to. I think that way they have succeeded," he said. There was speculation in Pakistan that the Tamil Tigers or even India had been behind the attack in retaliation for the Mumbai terror raid last November, but most analysts noted the parallels between the Mumbai attacks and this latest raid, and said Islamic terrorists from one of Pakistan's many al-Qaeda affiliated groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba were almost certainly responsible. The Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, said: "I want to say it's the same pattern, the same terrorists who attacked Mumbai. They are trained criminals. They were not common people. The kind of weaponry they had, the kind of arms they had, the way they attacked, they were obviously trained."