On Tuesday, media outlets reported that a dozen men attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team with rifles, grenades and rocket launchers ahead of a match in Lahore, wounding six team members [five players and the coach] and killing a driver and six police officers. CNN reported, “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.” According to Dawn, the attack triggered a 25-minute gun battle with security forces. Lahore police chief Habib ur-Rehman told the news agency, “They appeared to be well-trained terrorists.” Several media outlets reported that television footage “showed several gunmen creeping through trees, crouching to aim their weapons and then running onto the next target.”
CNN reported that witnesses described the scene as “pandemonium,” noting that “images showed police vehicles with their windscreens shattered by bullets and splattered with blood.” The news agency quoted Hamish Roberts, a camera operator who was inside the stadium when the attack occurred. He said, “I heard two loud explosions outside the stadium and a lot of AK-47 fire.” The AFP also quoted a Sri Lankan player, who speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “There was a blast first, then we heard firing. A rocket launcher was also fired at the bus which narrowly missed.”
Today’s tragic development is likely to enforce perceptions about Pakistan’s deteriorating security situation, and “cast another cloud over Pakistan cricket which has been reeling from a string of cancelled tours and tournaments,” noted Dawn. This past December, India canceled their 2009 cricket tour of Pakistan following increased Indo-Pak tensions. They were the third major cricket tour to Pakistan last year to be canceled on security grounds. Australia pulled out of their scheduled visit in March 2008, while the International Cricket Council also postponed the Champions Trophy one-day tournament in September.
According to CNN, “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 news agency added, “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.” Last month’s meeting with Sri Lanka in Karachi was the Pakistani team’s first test match since touring India in 2007. However, following today’s attack, the team announced they were effectively ending their tour of Pakistan.
AAJ Television cited statements made by David Morgan, the president of the International Cricket Council. Following Tuesday’s attack, he told reporters that Pakistan “cannot host international cricket unless it dramatically improves security.” His announcement will dramatically impact whether Pakistan will be able to jointly host the 2011 World Cup. He asserted,
In the current situation it is clearly a very dangerous place…Things will have to change dramatically in Pakistan in my opinion if any of the games are to be staged there…I think that international cricket in Pakistan is out of the question until there is a very significant change, a regime change I guess.
Today’s incident was truly a tragedy, perpetrated by forces wishing to negatively influence perceptions of our country and destabilize Pakistan further. Not only did they target innocent people, but they also threatened a sport that Pakistanis [and many other countries] love with all their heart. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those wounded and killed in this horrendous attack. [Image from Reuters]
UPDATE 935 [EST]: Pakistani Information Minister Sherry Rehman has told reporters that the gunmen are still at-large. According to CNN, “No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Sri Lankan officials have ruled out Tamil separatists.” Lahore’s police chief said the gunmen were in their early 20s and were bearded. According to the NY Times, “He described them as resembling Pathans, an ethnic group that dominates North West Frontier Province and tribal areas, an apparent suggestion that assailants were Taliban militants from the tribal areas.” However, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer likened the incident to the Mumbai attacks, and noted the attackers were highly trained and equipped with sophisticated weapons. “The attackers were not ordinary terrorists but highly trained,” he asserted, adding, “These were the same methods and the same sort of people as hit Mumbai.” According to AAJ Television, Inspector General of Punjab Police Khawaja Khalid Farooq told media that joint investigation teams comprising professional and honest officers have been constituted to probe the attack.
UPDATE 1715 [EST]: CNN’s Situation Room spoke with its Pakistan correspondent Stan Grant who said the gunmen, who carried out Tuesday’s attacks in broad daylight, hid behind bushes waiting for the Sri Lankan players’ bus at a busy roundabout in Lahore. The BBC‘s Barbara Plett, in Islamabad, said that accounts suggest the attack was sophisticated, with one group of gunmen firing a rocket-propelled grenade to create a diversion, while others fired on the convoy. When the bus came under attack, the driver of the bus “heroically sped off.” Sri Lankan wicket keeper Kumar Sangakkara told an Australian news agency, “We had an amazing driver who just kept driving the bus straight through all of that to the ground and that’s probably what saved us.” However, the driver of the bus following behind, carrying the Australian umpires, was killed. CNN noted, “This attack shows just how vulnerable Pakistan is.” According to Grant, the gunmen are still at-large, and the investigation is just beginning. The Situation Room also spoke with Fareed Zakaria, who said, “There’s no question that Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world right now…it is unstable, weak, and this cancer of Islamic terrorism has turned into Frankenstein’s monster…”