6 dead in attack on Sri Lankan cricketers

Police gather beside the wreckage of a police van in Lahore, Pakistan, following Tuesday's attack.
At least six security personnel were killed and up to eight members of Sri Lanka’s cricket team hurt Tuesday in an attack on the team’s bus by gunmen in Lahore, Pakistan.

The Sri Lankan squad had been making its way to the city’s Gaddafi Stadium for the third day of the second test match against Pakistan at around 9 a.m. local time (11 p.m. ET) when the attack occurred. Police said at least 12 gunmen opened fire on the convoy. Pakistani Information Minister Sherry Rahman told CNN that the attackers were still at large. Up to eight players, one coach and 10 security staff were reported hurt in the attack, although most injuries were said to be minor. Batsmen Tharanga Paranavitana and Thilan Samaraweera suffered gunshot wounds, according to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Four more players — team captain Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Suranga Lakmal, Thilin Thushara — and assistant coach Paul Fabrece were reportedly hurt by glass shrapnel. Cricket manager Charlie Austin, who represents six of the Sri Lankan squad, said none of the players’ injuries were life-threatening. “The guys are shocked. They are recovering at the moment,” Austin told CNN. “Thankfully they’ve only suffered minor injuries. They’re keen to leave Pakistan and get back to their families as soon as possible.” A spokesman for the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the attack “outrageous” and said Foreign Affairs Minister Rohitha Bogollagama was rushing to Pakistan. Sri Lanka was working with Pakistan to ensure the safe return of the Sri Lankan cricketers, he said. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Sri Lankan officials ruled out Tamil separatists, who have been waging a bloody civil war on the Southeast Asian island. Witnesses who saw the attack described the scene as “pandemonium,” but praised the response of security officials. The bus driver said the convoy had come under fire as it approached the stadium with gunmen initially targeting a police car and two security vehicles in front of the bus. “I heard two loud explosions outside the stadium and a lot of AK-47 fire,” said Hamish Roberts, a camera operator who was inside the stadium when the attack occurred. Sports producer Gavin Scovell said security teams responded quickly. “The guards were brilliant. They weren’t panicking. They were very calm,” Scovell said. “It must have been a terrifying experience, but they handled it well.” Pakistan, which is battling Islamist and Taliban insurgents in its North West Frontier Province, has struggled to attract visiting cricket teams in recent years because of security concerns.

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In 2002 a car bomb exploded outside a hotel where the New Zealand cricket team was staying. Last year Australia canceled a proposed tour in the wake of a series of suicide bombings. The International Cricket Council was also forced to postpone the high-profile ICC Champions Trophy after five of the eight participants pulled out. Pakistan is due to co-host the Cricket World Cup in 2011 with India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, although the extent of its involvement in that tournament may now be under scrutiny. Sri Lanka agreed in December to visit Pakistan after India called off a tour following November’s terror attacks in Mumbai. Indian authorities blamed the attacks on Pakistan-based militants. In a statement, ICC Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat said the attack was “very upsetting for the wider cricket family.” “We note with dismay and regret the events of this morning in Lahore and we condemn this attack without reservation,” Lorgat said. “I have confirmed with both member boards that the remainder of the tour has been canceled and we are working hard to get our match officials out of the area as safely and as quickly as possible.” Pakistan’s Cricket Board had hoped Sri Lanka’s tour would help it recoup some of more than $16 million it was set to lose as a result of India’s cancelation.

“This has really damaged Pakistan,” former Pakistani cricket player Zahir Abbas told Geo-TV. “Already some teams didn’t want to come to Pakistan. Now who will come after this incident” The Sri Lankan offer to tour was a reciprocal gesture. Pakistan was one of two countries that agreed to play in Sri Lanka during the 1996 World Cup tournament. Other countries refused to travel there because of security concerns over the country’s civil war with Tamil separatists.