Six Sri Lankan cricketers suffered shrapnel wounds in a brutal terror attack on the vehicle ferrying the team to Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium in the Pakistani province of Punjab on Tuesday morning, the assault that came in the heart of the city yet again underlined the Pakistani militant’s ability to strike far, wide and at will.
Six Pakistani police personnel died in the brutal attack, which was launched by a dozen heavily armed terrorists, while Ahsan Raza, the fourth umpire in the now discarded second test between the home side and the visiting Lankans, is battling for life at a Lahore hospital.
The Sri Lankan team members injured in the attack were identified as Ajantha Mendis, Tharanga Paranavitana, Thilan Samaraweera, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene and team coach Paul Farbrace.
The Sri Lankan team was later airlifted to Lahore airport from the Gaddafi stadium, as Sri Lanka officially called off the tour the players reached back to Colombo late on Tuesday night aboard a special plane.
Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, speaking to the media after the attack, said the attack came in the heart of the city, and was the handiwork of those responsible for the audacious 26/11 carnage in the Indian commercial capital of Mumbai.
The attack punctuates an ongoing political crisis in Punjab that erupted after the Pakistani supreme court upheld the decision of a Lahore court barring former premier Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz from contesting elections or holding constitutional office due to corruption charges they face.
Shahbaz Sharif was the chief minister of the state, till the supreme court decision ousted him from office, the state was later brought under gubernatorial rule.
“It was a planned terrorist act on the pattern of the attack on Mumbai. I believe the same terrorists are involved in both the incidents,” Taseer was quoted as saying by correspondents.
According to IANS, the Sri Lankan team bus was riddled with bullets at the Liberty Market crossing in the vicinity of the stadium at around 0830 hours local time (0900 hrs. IST.), as it was heading towards the sports facility for the third day’s play in the second Test from their hotel.
A report on the NDTV website, attributing the inputs to local police, said, 12 terrorists were involved in the attack on Lankan team. The terrorists were armed with rockets, grenades and AK-47s.
Eyewitnesses say the attackers opened indiscriminate after starting the assault with a grenade explosion.
IBNLive, attributing inputs to Pakistan Cricket Board sources, said the van carrying the match umpires was also targeted, umpires’ liaison officer Abdul Sami was injured while Ahsan Raza was sustained critical injuries.
“We are assessing the situation,” was all correspondents in Lahore could elicit from PCB chief Ejaz Butt.
Pakistan sports minister has apologised to Lanka government for the gruesome attack.
Soon after the attacks army chief – General Pervez Kayani – is reported to have met Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari, who issued a strong condemnation of the attack.
Tuesday’s brutality forced Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to cut short his three-day state visit to Nepal due to security considerations.
“The president is returning Tuesday due to safety concerns after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan,” the Sri Lankan Embassy in Kathmandu was reported as saying by IANS.
Opposition members stalled proceedings in the Sri Lankan parliament after the attack on Tuesday and blamed President Rajapaksa for bringing on the attacks by sending the team to Pakistan as a goodwill gesture after other teams had refused to tour the country.
Outrage over the attacks spilled over beyond political circles, as several former cricketers lashed out against the establishment and urged it to own up responsibility for the attack.
“As a sportsman we are very sad about the whole thing but before we went on this tour we all knew there are so many problems in Pakistan. I don’t know who is responsible for this but then again I’m telling that our minister and the government should take the responsibility,” former Sri Lankan Captain Hashan Tillakaratne said.
“This is what happens in sports when politics is involved. The Sri Lanka Cricket never planned this tour,” said former Sri Lankan cricketer Ravindra Pushpakumara.
Worried over the controversy the attacks could trigger in the cricket crazy island nation, Rajapaksa, rushed foreign minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, to Lahore.
“It is a sad day for cricket, and we from Sri Lanka condemn all forms of violence. And particularly when violence is directed at a sporting team and a national team that is renowned, we are further saddened by this unfortunate incident,” said Bogollagama.
Meanwhile, Islamabad has constituted a committee to probe into the attack and would submit a report within 24 hours, said Associated Press of Pakistan attributing the information to Pak Minister of State for Interior Tasnim Ahmed Qureshi.
“It is premature to say anything about the elements behind the heinous crime, however the involvement of foreign hands cannot be ruled out,” said the minister.
Qureshi iterated that security cover, protecting the visitors, was sufficient and added that police officials had sacrificed their lives to protect the Sri Lankan team.
With serious aspersions being cast over the future of international cricket in Pakistan, the International Cricket Council (ICC) condemned the attack.
“We note with dismay and regret the events of this morning in Lahore and we condemn this attack without reservation,” ICC chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, said in a statement.
The attack – the first ever in the history of the sport – drew huge criticism, with India, US and the UK leading the international community in condemning the attacks as a senseless and cowardly act of terror, and expressing solidarity with Sri Lanka cricketers and their families.