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Lahore shooting by Mel Gunasekera

Cricket obsessed Sri Lanka reeled in shock and anger at the attack on its national team as it toured Pakistan in place of an Indian squad that had backed out because of security worries.
AFP | By HT Correspondent, Colombo
UPDATED ON MAR 03, 2009 03:08 PM IST

Cricket obsessed Sri Lanka reeled in shock and anger on Tuesday at the attack on its national team as it toured Pakistan in place of an Indian squad that had backed out because of security worries.

President Mahinda Rajapakse condemned the attack and ordered Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama to fly to Pakistan to oversee the evacuation of the Sri Lankan players -- seven of whom were wounded when gunmen fired on the team's bus in Lahore.

"I condemn this cowardly terrorist attack," Rajapakse said in a message sent from Nepal, where he is on an official visit.

The president stressed that the team had gone to Pakistan as "ambassadors of goodwill."

Seven Sri Lankan players, including skipper Mahela Jayawardene, were hurt, along with an assistant coach.

The Sri Lankan team was in Pakistan in place of the Indian team, which had pulled out of a scheduled tour following the November attacks in Mumbai, which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Sri Lankan officials declined to speculate on who may have been behind the attack, amid suggestions that its own rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) may have been involved.

"We are uncertain as to who perpetrated this attack," Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona told AFP.

"I have heard the LTTE mentioned on the airwaves. There is considerable speculation, but we will await the outcome of the investigation before we comment," he said.

"We are reassured that Pakistan authorities are conducting a probe to arrest the assailants and bring them to justice," he added.

The Sri Lankan military is on the verge of crushing the LTTE, which has been fighting a long-standing insurgency for an independent Tamil homeland in the northeast of the island.

In Sri Lanka, the sense of shock at the shootings was felt by cricket officials and fans alike.

Airline executive Lalith Fernando was dismayed that any group would target international sporting teams trying to help Pakistan improve its image.

"Pakistanis are cricket-crazy like us Sri Lankans. The terrorist attack only harms Pakistan more. It's a shame," Fernando said.

Sri Lanka Cricket chief executive Duleep Mendis said families of the players had been informed about the incident and moves were under way to fly the team home immediately.

"They (the players) are shaken, their families are worried too. But we are doing our best to get everybody home, perhaps tonight," Mendis said.

Sri Lankan Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge insisted that the safety of the players had been given all the necessary consideration before the tour began.

"The team was provided with heavy security and I was happy with the preparations the Pakistani officials had taken before we undertook the Test tour," Lokuge said.

He condemned what he described as "an isolated terrorist attack."

Graeme Labrooy, head of the Sri Lanka Cricketers' Association said the shooting was bound to deter other Test-playing nations from touring Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

"Other countries will think twice before touring here or Pakistan, because of the terrorism problem," Labrooy said.

Up to 12 gunmen attacked the team's convoy near the Gaddafi stadium with rockets, hand grenades and automatic weapons, triggering a 25-minute gun-fight with security forces.

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