Police in Lahore have launched an intensive search for at least 12 gunmen believed to be responsible for Tuesday’s deadly attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team which left six security personnel dead and eight players hurt — including two with gunshot wounds.
The Sri Lankan players were traveling by bus 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. Video footage showed several gunmen with automatic weapons firing on the convoy from a roundabout, Liberty Square, close to the stadium. Pakistani Information Minister Sherry Rahman told CNN the attackers were still at large as police launched an intensive hunt for the assailants. Witnesses described the scene of the ambush as “pandemonium.” Images showed police vehicles with their windscreens punctured by bullets and their front seats stained with blood. A body lies in the road in front of one bullet-shattered van. “I heard two loud explosions outside the stadium and a lot of AK-47 fire,” said Hamish Roberts, a cameraman who was inside the stadium at the time. See a map of where the attack took place » The driver of the bus said a police car and two security vans at the front of the convoy had borne the brunt of the gunmen’s assault. Watch footage of the gunmen staging their attack » Among the cricketers, batsmen Tharanga Paranavitana and Thilan Samaraweera sustained the worst injuries. Paranavitana, 26, was hit in the chest while Samaraweera, 32, suffered a bullet wound to the leg, according to Chamra Ranaveera, a Sri Lankan embassy attache. Both men are in a stable condition. Six other players — team captain Sangakkara, Chaminda Vaas, Ajantha Mendis, Suranga Lakmal, Thilan Thushara and Mahela Jayawardene — and assistant coach Paul Fabrece were also hurt, along with one coach and 10 security staff. Read profiles of the wounded players » “This is a very well-planned attack,” security official Nadeem Sayed told CNN. “The team is very much scared.” 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.” Watch Austin describe the mood of the Sri Lankan players after the attack » Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said the squad would be flown home to Colombo later Tuesday. Bogollagama is traveling to Pakistan for talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Sri Lankan officials have ruled out Tamil separatists, who have been waging a bloody civil war on the Southeast Asian island. Witnesses who saw the attack praised the response of security officials.
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“The guards were brilliant. They weren’t panicking. They were very calm,” sports producer Gavin Scovell said. “It must have been a terrifying experience, but they handled it well.” “Our policemen rose to the occasion and laid down their lives to protect our Sri Lankan guests,” said Pakistan’s President Zardari. 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. Watch how attack strikes at legitimacy of Pakistani government » Pakistan is due to co-host the Cricket World Cup in 2011 with India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. But ICC President David Morgan said Tuesday cricket officials would have to “think very carefully about the extent to which Pakistan will be used for that event.” Morgan told a press conference in London it had been a “very sad day” for the sport but added: “The world is a dangerous place but cricket must go” on and will go on. It is a great solace to many people.” 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.
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. 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 after other countries refused to travel there because of security concerns over the country’s civil war with Tamil separatists.