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Wounded Pakistan blames foreign hand

Pakistan hints at Indian involvement in the first terror strike on sportspersons since the 1972 Munich Olympics when 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian gunmen. Amit Baruah and Kamal Siddiqi examine...Shocked, injured, but alive | How it happened | ICC's reaction | Listen to podcast | Surfers response

world Updated: Mar 04, 2009 01:13 IST

In a variant of the 26/11 Mumbai strikes, about a dozen heavily-armed terrorists opened fire at a convoy taking the Sri Lankan cricket team to Lahore’s Gaddafi stadium, wounding seven players and killing seven Pakistanis.

Star batsman Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavithana were treated in hospital but out of danger, while captain Mahela Jayawardene, vice-captain Kumar Sangak-kara, Ajantha Mendis, Thilina Thushara and Suranga Lokumal had minor injuries. Six Pakistani policemen and a civilian were killed in the attack. Shocked, injured, but alive

Tuesday’s attack was the first terror strike on sportspersons since the last such incident during the 1972 Munich Olympics when 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian gunmen.

Pakistani television channels blamed the attack on India’s external intelligence agency, R&AW. Geo, a leading news channel, broadcast old footage of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, promising a fitting response (muh tod jawab) to those responsible for terrorist acts in India.

Interior Ministry czar Rehman Malik had earlier said he did not rule out a “foreign hand” behind the attacks. “There is a foreign hand. But I will not take the name of any country till we have proof.” Malik told journalists.

In Islamabad, PM Yusuf Raza Gillani said the strike was a “conspiracy” against Pakistan. The Pakistani foreign office said the attack was perpetrated by “enemies” of Pakistan-Sri Lanka friendship. How it happened

A Pakistani minister also pointed directly at India. “The evidence we have shows these terrorists entered from across the border from India,” Sardar Nabil Ahmed Gabol, Minister of State for Shipping, told Geo TV. “This incident took place in reaction to 26/11,” he alleged. “It is a declaration of open war on Pakistan by India,” the minister, from the Pakistan Peoples Party, claimed.

The involvement of young terrorists, armed with Kalashnikovs and carrying backpacks, was a stark reminder that Mumbai was being emulated. In this instance, however, all the terrorists managed to escape with ease, unlike in Mumbai where all but one of the attackers were killed.

Also, there was no random killing like in the Victoria Terminus at Mumbai – the attack on the Lankan team was, clearly, a targeted strike.

An independent analyst, who preferred anonymity, said the strike could be a Lashkar-e-Tayyeba response to the arrest of six top operatives for the Mumbai carnage.

Around 9.10 a.m. (IST), a bus carrying the Lankan team, bound for the Gaddafi stadium, came under heavy fire near the posh Liberty market from as many as 12 gunmen, who were lying in wait to strike the bus as it approached the cricket ground. Pakistani police personnel with the team fired back as the driver took the team out of harm’s way to the stadium.

“The kind of weapons they had... they are the same [type of] people who launched attacks in Mumbai. They were no ordinary terrorists,” Punjab Governor Salman Taseer said.

Mohammad Javed, superintendent of the Services hospital, said 15 wounded had been admitted of whom umpire Ahsan Raza, was “seriously wounded”. Team captain Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Suranka Lakmal and Chaminda Vaas had minor injuries, the Sri Lankan Cricket Board said.

“I don’t regret coming to Pakistan to play cricket. I regret what happened,” Sangakkara told an Indian television channel.

Sri Lanka, which replaced India that pulled out of a scheduled cricket tour to Pakistan, was promised high-grade security. The Lankan team has returned home after cancelling the tour.

There appeared to be general impression here that this attack signaled the end of international sportspersons coming and playing in Pakistan for the forseeable future.