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Sri Lanka's cricketers airlifted after Lahore attack
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March 03, 2009 14:07 IST
Last Updated: March 03, 2009 16:06 IST

Sri Lanka's [Images] cricketers and officials have been airlifted from the Gaddafi stadium [Images] in Lahore [Images] by a Pakistan airforce helicopter to facilitate their return to Colombo at the earliest following the gun attack on the team bus early Tuesday morning.

Six Sri Lankan players suffered minor injuries when around a dozen gunmen attacked the team's bus as it was on its way to the Gadaffi stadium in Lahore to resume play on Day 3 of the second Test against Pakistan.

The Sri Lankan board immediately called of the tour.

"The helicopter will take them straight to the Lahore airport from where they will fly home this afternoon," a Pakistan Cricket Board official said.

Thilan Samaraweera [Images] and Tharanga Paranavithana, who were hit by gunshots, will be taken to the airport straight from the hospital as they are out of danger.

PCB chairman Ejaz Butt and other Board officials were present at the Gaddafi stadium ground from where the helicopter airlifted the players and officials.

Among the players injured in the attack at the busy Liberty Chowk traffic roundabout, located less than a kilometre from the Gaddafi Stadium at 0900 IST, were captain Mahela Jayawardene [Images], star wicket-keeper batsman Kumar Sangakkara, mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis [Images], Samaraweera and Paranavitana.

While Samaraweera and Paranavitana received bullet wounds, the others besides the head coach Trevor Bayliss sustained minor injuries, Pakistan Cricket Board officials said.

Seven persons, including five policemen who were escorting the team, were killed and several others, including policemen and cricket officials, were injured in the exchange of fire that lasted for about half an hour.

Reports said reserve umpire Ahsan Raza was seriously injured and had been operated on in a local hospital.

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

The driver 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, who did not give his name.

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

Security forces cordoned off the area immediately after the attack and launched a search for the gunmen. Reports said the gunmen had tried to snatch a car in a nearby market as they fled from Liberty Chowk.

Two civilians were also killed in the attack which could raise a question mark over the future of Pakistan as an international cricket venue.

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

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

The Sri Lankan team had come to Pakistan after several other teams, including India, refused to tour the country because of security concerns.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [Images] and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [Images] condemned the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team. Zardari asked authorities to immediately investigate the incident to identify perpetrators and expose their motives.

Gilani said the objective of the attack was to bring a "bad name to Pakistan". He directed provincial authorities to immediately beef up security and to submit a report.

Condemning the "cowardly terrorist attack," Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a message from Nepal said: "The Sri Lankan players had gone to Pakistan as ambassadors of goodwill." He instructed immediate action to bring back all members of the team and ensure their safety and security.

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