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Rediff.com  » Cricket » Sangakkara, Mendis among SL players hurt in terrorist attack

Sangakkara, Mendis among SL players hurt in terrorist attack

Last updated on: March 03, 2009 17:46 IST

Six Sri Lankan cricketers and their assistant coach were injured while their security guards were among eight people killed in the first ever terror strike in the history of the sport, forcing Colombo to immediately call off the tour.

Star wicket-keeper batsman Kumar Sangakkara and mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis along with Thilan Samaraweera, Tharanga Paranavitana, Suranga Lakmal and Thilina Thushara were injured in the attack at the busy Liberty Chowk traffic roundabout, located less than a kilometre from Gaddafi Stadium, at 9 am.

Assistant coach Paul Farbrace also sustained minor injuries in the brazen attack, carried out by a dozen masked terrorists armed with rifles, grenades and rocket-launchers.

The gunmen ambushed the luxury bus ferrying Sri Lankan cricket team to Gaddafi Stadium to resume play on the third day of the second and final test match with Pakistan.

Eight people, most of them police guards accompanying the team, were killed during the nearly 30-minute exchange of fire.

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer said the attack bore the hallmarks of the Mumbai terror strikes, for which India blamed Pakistan-based elements including Lashkar-e-Tayiba. "I want to say it's the same pattern, the same terrorists who attacked Mumbai," he said.

The Sri Lankan team was airlifted from Gaddafi Stadium to the Lahore airport by a Pakistan Air Force helicopter on their way back home to Colombo.

Pakistani television channel Dawn News quoted unnamed sources as saying that the terrorists wanted to take the Sri Lankan team hostage.

Injured players Samaraweera and Paranavitana, who received bullet injuries, were rushed to the military hospital. They are out of danger and stable, said Chamara Ranavira, a Sri Lankan High Commission spokesman said.

They were later carried on stretchers and airlifted to the Lahore airport accompanied by three doctors.

TV footage showed gunmen with backpacks firing at the convoy as they fled from the scene, with several vehicles damaged and unexploded grenades lying around. None of the attackers were killed or captured, Lahore police chief Haji Habibur Rehman said.

"Most of us had small injuries while some suffered shrapnel wounds," Sangakkara said, adding, "All are fine now." "At the moment we are not thinking of anything else but going back home."

Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Ejaz Butt and other board officials were present at the Gaddafi stadium ground from where the helicopter airlifted the players and officials.

There were conflicting reports about captain Mahela Jayawardene being injured in the terror ambush.

Sri lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has cut short his visit to Nepal, condemned the attack and rushed his Foreign Minister Rohita Bogollagama to Pakistan to assist in the team's safe return to Colombo.

Lahore police chief Rehman said two Sri Lankan cricketers were hit by bullets, one in the chest another in the leg, but did not elaborate.

Four suspects were detained in the Model Town area, the police claimed, as the white Hyundai car loaded with grenades, explosives and other materials was also seized.

Reports said reserve umpire Ahsan Raza, who was travelling in a separate car, was seriously injured and had been operated on in a local hospital.

Hours after the ambush, authorities defused two car bombs before they could explode and recovered a cache of weapons in Lahore.

The Pakistani team was in its hotel at the time of the incident. Officials immediately took steps to prevent it from leaving the hotel.

The driver of the bus carrying the cricketers said the terrorists shot at his vehicle from all sides. A rocket fired from behind missed the bus and hit an electric pylon, he said.

The driver, who did not give his name, said he had seen a tall and bearded terrorist wearing a shalwar kameez emerge from a white car and open fire at his bus. Another terrorist lobbed a grenade that passed under the bus, he said.

"People started shouting in the bus and the players said 'Go, go'. I drove the bus at high speed to the stadium. I then saw a Sri Lankan player was hit in the leg by a bullet. We

called an ambulance and put him in it," said the driver.

Rehman said the attackers, armed with rocket launchers, grenades and Kalashnikovs, had come to the spot in a rickshaw and cars.

Security forces cordoned off the area immediately after the attack and launched a search for the gunmen.

Sri Lanka had agreed to play in Pakistan after India and Australia deferred their scheduled trips for security reasons. After playing three one-dayers in Pakistan, the Sri Lankan team had proceeded to India for five one day matches and returned to Lahore for the two test matches.

"What has happened today in cricket can never happen in sports anywhere in the world. Obviously, my sympathies are with the Sri Lankan team," said former Pakistani captain Javed Miandad.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

"They were trained terrorists and they attacked in a planned manner. They (attackers) looked like Pashtuns," Khaled Farooq, Punjab Province police chief, said.

TV channels aired footage of at least four of the terrorists, one of them wearing a brown shalwar kameez and the others jeans and jackets. The terrorists were moving in pairs.

One channel beamed footage of two terrorists mercilessly shooting at a policeman as he lay on the road. 

The Sri Lankan team called off its tour after the attack.

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