LAHORE, March 3 – Masked gunmen opened fire on the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Tuesday, killing at least eight people and wounding six team members, police 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 gunbattle with security forces, said Lahore police chief chief Habib-ur Rehman.
"They appeared to be well-trained terrorists," said Rehman.
A police official said that two civilians and six police officers who were guarding the players were killed in the attack, which happened as the team was heading for the third day’s play in the second Test against Pakistan.
Television footage showed several gunmen creeping through trees, crouching to aim their weapons and then running onto the next target.
Crystals of broken glass littered the road next to a gun cartridge and an empty rocket-propelled grenade launcher. A police motorbike was shown crashed sideways into the road at the Liberty Chowk roundabout.
Bullet holes ripped through the windscreen of another vehicle and a white car was shown smashed headlong into the roundabout as nervous security officers guarded the site.
Pakistani officials gave no details about the fate of the gunmen who they said arrived at the scene in rickshaws.
Sri Lankan officials said six team members – five players and a coach – were wounded and that the team was immediately ending its tour of Pakistan.
Assistant coach Paul Farbrace and star batsman Thilan Samaraweera were kept in hospital although their injuries were not believed to be life-threatening, said Sri Lanka’s Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge.
Captain Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Tharanga Paranavithana and Ajantha Mendis suffered only minor injuries, he said.
Samaraweera is one of Sri Lanka’s leading players and earlier this week became only the seventh batsmen in Test cricket to notch a double hundred in consecutive matches.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack but fears of attacks by Islamic militants linked to Al-Qaeda have caused many teams to postpone or cancel cricket tours to Pakistan in recent years.
The shooting also came as the Sri Lankan army pushed its final offensive against ethnic Tamil rebels in the north of the country in a civil war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
The brazen attack sent shockwaves through the world of cricket and immediately raised doubts about the 2011 World Cup which is due to take place in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
"What has happened is very shocking indeed," said N. Srinivasan, secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
"We have been saying that there was a lack of security and safety in Pakistan. But this is not the time to give statements on that. At the moment our concerns are only for the Sri Lankan players," he told AFP.
Former Sri Lankan cricket coach Tom Moody said he was stunned.
"My thoughts and prayers are not only with my friends in the Sri Lankan cricket team, but with the families of everyone that has been killed or injured in today’s attack," he said.
The attack cast another cloud over Pakistan cricket which has been reeling from a string of cancelled tours and tournaments.
Australia earlier this month forced Pakistan to change the venue of a one-day series to the neutral venues of Dubai and Abu Dhabi when the two sides meet in April-May this year over security fears.
Australia, who also played Pakistan in three Tests at the neutral venues of Colombo and Dubai in 2002, have not toured here since 1998.
India also refused to send its team across the border amid heightened tensions in the wake of attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai, which New Delhi blamed on militants based in Pakistan.
Last month, security concerns raised by other teams forced the ICC to move the 2009 Champions Trophy out of Pakistan.
The event was originally scheduled for last year but was put off after South Africa pulled out of the event and Australia, England and New Zealand showed a reluctance to tour because of fears about players’ safety.