In an audacious commando-style raid reminiscent of the November attacks against Mumbai, terrorists in Lahore, Pakistan, yesterday attacked a bus full of Sri Lankan cricket players wounding seven players and killing eight, mostly police officers.
“The terrorists were heavily armed,” said Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi during a joint press conference with Sri Lankan foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama. “They had rocket-propelled grenades, rocket launchers, hand grenades, and they were well-trained.”
Witnesses report 12 to 14 men ambushed the team Tuesday morning around 9 a.m. The attack came 500 meters away from Qaddafi Stadium, where the team had a match. The attack lasted 30 minutes. Afterward, the terrorists commandeered a car and a motorized rickshaw in their escape.
Six police officers died in the attack along with a driver in the convoy although the death toll has been reported at eight. Bogollagama thanked the police officers for their sacrifice. Although seven cricket players were wounded, none died in the attack, according to Pakistan’s English language paper Dawn.
Two of them — Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavithana — were hospitalised for a few hours with bullet injuries. Doctors later reported they were out of danger. The other injured players were skipper Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Thilina Thushara and Suranga Lokumal. All escaped with minor injuries.
Evidence discovered around the scene of the crime suggests that the terrorists wanted to create a hostage situation by seizing the cricket players’ bus, Dawn reports.
Police found a large quantity of hand-grenades, rocket launchers, suicide jackets, plastic explosives, time devices, Kalashnikov rifles, pistols and walkie-talkies left at different places in a radius of a few furlongs by the attackers.
Police and bomb disposal squad seized three hand-grenades, a time device and a Kalashnikov from the backyard of the house of a retired army officer and several other weapons from near the Alfatah Departmental Store in Makka Colony and other nearby places.
They also seized a red car (LRM-7030) parked near the Liberty Park with a huge-quantity of grenades and Kalashnikovs.
The large arms cache indicated that the attackers were prepared to hold out law enforcers for a long-drawn standoff and strengthened the belief that they wanted to hijack the bus carrying the Lankan team.
The Guardian reports that this latest attack may suggest terrorists methods are evolving away from suicide bombings to commando-style assaults using heavy arms. In November, ten terrorists engineered a daring 60-hour assault throughout Mumbai, India, killing over 170 people and wounding more than 300. And like Mumbai, the Lahore attackers all appear to be in their early twenties, casually dressed, and following similar tactics.
All the gunmen remain at large at this time, however the police report that they have arrested “some suspects.” The International Herald Tribune reports about 20 people have been detained. Supposedly thirteen of the arrests were students staying at a hostel in Lahore. Police report that officers found a rocket launcher and blood-stained clothes at the premises.
Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, who is a member of the Pakistan Peoples Party of President Asif Ali Zardari, criticized the arrests as public theatre.
“They want to show to the world they are making arrests,” Mr. Sherpao said. “They don't know anything. There is not any semblance of government.”
Sherpao also called the attack a “total security lapse,” a description seconded by Chris Broad, a British umpire who had been traveling with the Sri Lankan team. Broad said they were guaranteed “presidential-style security,” but when the attack began, security forces melted away.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but a wide-ranging cast of suspects have been floated.
According to IHT:
American counterterrorism officials said that it was too early to determine which group was behind Tuesday's attack, but that the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba were possible suspects. One South Asia specialist also raised the possibility that Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka might have asked Lashkar-e-Taiba militants in Pakistan to attack the cricket team. If true, this would be an ominous sign of collaboration between regional terrorist groups.
Dawn reports that intelligence reports in January warned India’s intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) were planning to attack the Sri Lankan cricket team on the road leading to the stadium.
After Mumbai, tensions ratcheted up between the two nuclear-armed powers as India blamed Pakistan for attack. Pakistani papers have seized on the report, blaming India for Tuesday’s attack and spurring fears that tensions between the two nations will once again spike dangerously.