Pak steps up hunt for Lahore cricket attackers

Pakistan on Wednesday offered a reward of $125,000 for information about the militants behind a deadly ambush directed against Sri Lanka's cricket team.

updated: March 04, 2009 10:33 IST
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Pakistan published photos of two of the militants who ambushed Sri Lanka's cricket team and offered a reward Wednesday for help tracking the men who killed six police, wounded seven players and exposed the country's inability to prevent terrorism.

Up to 14 heavily armed and organized gunmen sprayed the Sri Lankan bus with bullets and fired a rocket and a grenade as it traveled to a match against Pakistan in the eastern city of Lahore Tuesday. The bus sped through the ambush and reached the safety of the stadium.

"We were all tucked under the seats," Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene said when the team arrived home in Colombo early Wednesday. "Our guys were getting hurt and screaming but we couldn't help each other. We were just hoping that we will not get hit.

"None of us thought that we would come alive out of the situation."

The assault bore many similarities to last year's three-day hostage drama in India's financial capital Mumbai.

Working in pairs, the attackers in Lahore carried walkie-talkies and backpacks stuffed with water, dried fruit and other high-energy food - a sign they anticipated a protracted siege and may have been planning to take the players hostage, an official said.

None of the gunmen were killed and all apparently escaped after a 15-minute gunbattle with the convoy's security detail.

Besides the six police officers, a driver of a vehicle in the convoy was also killed, officials said. Seven Sri Lanka players, a Pakistani umpire and a coach from Britain were wounded, none with life-threatening injuries.

Even though the bus was peppered with 25 bullet holes, none of the players were killed. The attack was among the highest-profile terrorist strikes on a sports team since the 1972 Munich Olympics, when Palestinian militants killed 11 Israeli athletes.

Pakistan's Punjab provincial government took out advertisements in newspapers Wednesday offering a $125,000 reward.

The ad showed two alleged attackers, both carrying backpacks and guns. The image was taken from TV footage of the event.

By targeting a much-loved sport in Pakistan and elsewhere in South Asia, the gunmen were certain to draw international attention to the government's inability to provide basic security as it battles militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban and faces accusations it is soft on Islamist militants it once nurtured.

The attack ended Pakistan's hopes of hosting international cricket teams - or any high profile sports events - for months, if not years. Even before Tuesday, most cricket squads chose not to tour the country for security reasons. India and Australia had canceled tours, and New Zealand announced Tuesday it was likely to cancel its tour scheduled for later this year.

The Pakistan-Sri Lanka series was Pakistan's first Test matches for 14 months.

"Given the tragic events of yesterday and the comments from the ICC (International Cricket Council), staging our tour in Pakistan in November-December would appear very unlikely but there is no final decision as yet," New Zealand Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan said in a statement. "We will discuss the security issue with the Pakistan Cricket Board at the next ICC meeting, and we are likely to look at options such as the use of neutral venues."

The ICC said it would review Pakistan's status as co-host of the 2011 World Cup.

Authorities canceled the Test match against Pakistan and a special flight carried the Sri Lanka team - including Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavitana who had been hospitalized with bullet wounds - home, where the exhausted-looking players had an emotional private meeting with their families.

One of the players was taken from the airport to a hospital in Colombo.

The country has a web of militant networks, some with links to al-Qaida and the Taliban, which have staged other high-profile strikes in a bid to destabilize the government and punish it for its support of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.