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Report: Pakistani official admits security lapse

A Pakistani official admitted that "very vivid" security lapses allowed gunmen to ambush Sri Lanka's cricket team and escape, local media reported on Thursday, as investigators chased down leads in hopes of a breakthrough in the case.

world Updated: Mar 05, 2009 14:17 IST

A Pakistani official admitted that "very vivid" security lapses allowed gunmen to ambush Sri Lanka's cricket team and escape, local media reported on Thursday, as investigators chased down leads in hopes of a breakthrough in the case.



The acknowledgment followed allegations by a referee caught up in Tuesday's attack that police abandoned him like a "sitting duck." Video from the area showed the gunmen sauntering down a deserted side street, apparently leaving with no fear of pursuit.



But other Pakistani officials have defended the security measures, noting six policemen guarding the convoy were killed when it was attacked by up to 14 heavily armed men near a stadium in the heart of the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.

Seven players, an umpire and an assistant coach were wounded. The attack occurred despite government pledges to give the Sri Lankan players and match officials the same level of protection afforded a head of state.

Lahore commissioner Khusro Pervez admitted in an interview with local media that the gunmen should have been battled by "back-up police support which didn't arrive."

"All convoys are provided outer cordons, but in this case the outer cordon did not respond or it was not enough. The vehicles used for escorting the Sri Lankan convoy were not adequate," the Dawn newspaper quoted him as saying to a television news show owned by the same media company.

"There are certain security lapses which are very vivid and very clear," he said.

The lapse was all the more shocking because Pakistan knew any incident would end, perhaps for years, its hopes of regularly hosting international sporting events. Even before Tuesday's ambush, most teams chose not to visit this cricket-obsessed country because of rising violence by Islamic extremists.

"It is a source of embarrassment at the international level," said Ahsan Iqbal, an opposition lawmaker. "This government should be ashamed and make those responsible for criminal negligence in their duties accountable."

Police have given conflicting accounts of the investigation. One top police official said several suspects had been taken into custody in connection with the attack. Hours later, however, another denied anyone had been detained or even questioned. Officials reached on Thursday said they were pursuing clues in several cities. Islamic militants were widely suspected in the attack, but authorities did not explicitly say that.

Pakistan has a web of extremist networks, some with links to al-Qaida and the Taliban, that have attacked foreign civilians in a bid to destabilize the government and punish it for supporting the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Referee Chris Broad was traveling in a van in the same convoy as the Sri Lankan team bus when the attackers opened fire with automatic weapons, grenades and at least one rocket launcher, killing his driver and critically wounding a fellow official. "There was not a sign of a policeman anywhere," Broad said Wednesday after flying back to Britain. "They had clearly left the scene and left us to be sitting ducks."

He did not say how he managed to escape.

Other witnesses described police trading fire with the gunmen for about 15 minutes, but at least one of the Sri Lankan players said the attackers appeared to fire at will at the bus. "They were not under pressure ... nobody was firing at them," team captain Mahela Jayawardene said after returning to Sri Lanka.

Players said their bus stopped for around 90 seconds while under attack, before the driver stepped on the gas and drove them to the safety of the stadium. Broad and the players said Pakistani officials had promised to give them "presidential style" security as part of efforts to convince them to make the trip. "I am extremely angry we were promised high-level security and in our hour of need that security vanished and we were left just open to anything," Broad said.

Several Pakistani officials denied that, as did the country's top cricket official.

"How can Chris Broad say this when six policemen were killed?" Pakistan Cricket Board chief Ijaz Butt told The Associated Press. He declined further comment, saying he wanted to speak with Broad first.

The convoy transporting the Sri Lankan team and cricket officials was surrounded by police vehicles at the front, rear and side, and took the same route each day of the five-day test match against Pakistan's national team, authorities said. It was not clear how many police officers were in the convoy.

The surveillance video, broadcast on Pakistani television, showed several attackers apparently escaping down a side street on motorcycles while brandishing weapons. Three were shown walking along the middle of the street, apparently in no fear that they were being chased by police.

None of the gunmen was killed, and all apparently escaped. The assault bore similarities to November's three-day terrorist rampage in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai. The Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba has been blamed for that attack, in which 10 gunmen targeted hotels, a Jewish center and other sites, killing 164 people.

Pakistani authorities have since cracked down on the group, which is based in eastern Pakistan.