LAHORE // A bloody attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan yesterday underscored an increasingly perilous terrorist threat endangering the country. Seven people - six police officers and one civilian - were killed in the commando-style attack by 12 unidentified gunmen, the most high-profile attack on international athletes in years, that officials said bore the hallmarks of a terrorist group that attacked the Indian city of Mumbai in November. Police claimed to have arrested four suspected terrorists in the Model Town area of Lahore along with a cache of weapons, including Kalashnikov rifles. It was not known if they were connected to the attack. The terrorist attack in Lahore, the capital of the country's most politically important province, will once again focus attention on a deep-rooted terrorism problem about which many Pakistani politicians are in deep denial. The attack has destroyed Pakistan's attempts to host international sporting fixtures and dealt another blow to the country's crumbling morale. The gunmen ambushed the Sri Lankan team's bus and its police escort as they circled a roundabout about 500 metres from the 60,000-seat Qadafi Stadium. Six Sri Lankan cricketers and their British assistant coach were wounded in the attack. The driver of a second vehicle carrying the match umpires was killed in the attack. Officials in Lahore said two members of the Sri Lankan team - Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavitana - were hospitalised. The rest of the team flew to Sri Lanka on a chartered flight last night. "It's the same pattern, the same terrorists who attacked Mumbai," said the governor of the Pakistani Punjab, Salman Taseer. India blamed that attack on Pakistan-trained militants and the incident sharply raised tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours. Pakistani officials and a minister blamed India for a tit-for-tat style attack. "The evidence which we have got shows that these terrorists entered from across the border from India," Sardar Nabil Ahmed Gabol, minister of state for shipping, told Geo, a private television station. "This was a conspiracy to defame Pakistan internationally." "We suspect some foreign hand," said the head of the interior ministry, Rehman Malik, alluding to India. The Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapakse, condemned the "cowardly terrorist attack".
The team bus was ambushed on both sides on Liberty roundabout as the third day of play in the Second Test was scheduled to begin. The match has now been cancelled. One group of gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade to create a diversion, the others then approached, firing guns and throwing hand grenades under the bus, which did not explode. The driver of the team bus, Mehar Mohammed Khalil, said: "I was turning the bus towards the stadium near the main roundabout when I saw a rocket fired at us it missed us and hit an electric pole after which all hell broke loose." Each side of the bus, parked at Qadafi stadium, was pocked with four to five bullet holes. The windscreen was dented, but not pierced, by two bullets on the driver's side. Mr Khalil's quick reactions may have saved lives, as he steered the bus away and dashed across the final 500 metres to the stadium. Up to 12 gunmen armed with automatic weapons, and wearing small backpacks and shoulder bags filled with ammunition, were seen operating in pairs, reminiscent of the style used in the recent terrorist attacks on Mumbai. The gunmen were filmed moving among trees on the well-tended grass verges near the area's main road. They fired as they ran, taking cover among bushes and trees. Abdul Ghani Butt, who runs a shoe shop on the corner of Liberty Chowk (roundabout), said: "I was inside my shop when the attack took place. I rushed outside when I heard the shots. I saw three people on the roundabout firing at the team bus. They were wearing trousers and shirt. I saw the face of one of them - he was a boy of about 20 years old." The attackers fled into the nearby Liberty market area of Lahore. Liberty market is near the stadium in Lahore's well-heeled commercial district in Gulberg, a residential area full of restaurants and shopping malls. Lahore's inspector general of police, Raja Khalid Farooq, said: "We have not started working on who is responsible for the attack but we will soon find out. Security was not inadequate and whatever happened could not have been stopped." Analysts said they believed the group that carried out the attack was linked to the Mumbai attacks. Several of the suspected Mumbai terrorists came from Punjab, where they received training from Punjab-based jihadi terrorists groups. The attack took place in the Punjab, which has been the scene of bitter political tension in the past week after the Supreme Court barred Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, and his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, the provincial governor, from holding office. The federal government of Asif Ali Zardari then imposed its own rule in the province in the latest move in a power struggle between the ruling Pakistan People's Party and Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League. Critics have said the political struggle has deflected attention away from Pakistan's campaign against terrorists. Pakistan's all-powerful army is growing increasingly impatient with civilian politicians to govern the country. Elections last year ushered in a civilian government that soon afterwards forced the former president, Pervez Musharraf, to step down after eight years of military rule. The civilian politicians have been bogged down in a power struggle while the army has had limited success in fighting militants in the lawless tribal area and has been forced into striking a peace deal with militants in the troubled northern valley of Swat. Ahmed Rashid, a leading expert on the Taliban, said: "This is a major attempt to undermine the state. The extremists are on the offensive. It is one more indicator that the Swat deal is a disaster. They are uncontainable." firstname.lastname@example.org