The Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse condemned the attack on the country's cricket team yesterday that left eight members wounded, and sent the foreign minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, to Lahore to oversee their evacuation. "I condemn this cowardly terrorist attack," Mr Rajapakse said in a message sent from Nepal, where he cut short an official visit. The president said the team had gone to Pakistan as "ambassadors of goodwill". He arranged a charter aircraft to fly them home last night.
The sports minister, Gamini Lokuge, looked distraught as he appeared on television yesterday to speak about the incident and said the team's safety had been guaranteed by Pakistan. "The tour was given the green light after an assurance on the security and the safety of the players from the Pakistan government," he said. The Sri Lankan government is currently engaged in a conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), better known as the Tamil Tigers, who are fighting for a separate homeland and are considered a terrorist organisation by Colombo.
But the attack still sent shockwaves through the country. "It is a much regrettable incident," said Marvan Atapattu, a former national cricket captain. "It is hard for anyone to think that such an attack would take place on a visiting cricket team, given that there haven't been any previous incidents. And we as Sri Lankans are not unexposed to such dastardly terrorist attacks." Mr Atapattu praised Pakistan for the way it reacted to the incident, but said the International Cricket Council should take measures to ensure the safety of travelling cricket teams.
"The ICC has so many subcommittees and they surely can have another to oversee future tours. Someone has to take that responsibility and I think as cricket's governing body, the ICC must step in and take that responsibility. Otherwise this incident will go into the limbo and the respective boards will continue to stage the matches on their mutual guarantees [of security]." Sri Lankans in the UAE were also coming to terms with the attack.
"I can't understand why they attacked the Sri Lanka cricketers when they were the only team to tour Pakistan after all others had refused for security reasons," said Abdeen Muthalip, an accountant in Abu Dhabi. Shadeep Silva, who represented the Emirates Cricket Board, said: "We can't blame anybody except those who carried out the attack. Sri Lanka toured because Pakistan and India were the only teams to visit Sri Lanka in 1996 when all others stayed back for fear of security. Now I understand their concerns."
Kizar Camal, a Sri Lankan banker based in Abu Dhabi, said the attack was "a massive blow for Pakistan cricket". "The Sri Lankan cricketers were very fortunate to return without any fatalities. Yet it is a sad day when the sport of cricket has to suffer," he said. Teresa Fernando, a Sri Lankan housewife who lives in the capital, added: "It was a very sad day. It was something I never expected. But these are lessons we have to learn and take nothing for granted. My immediate thoughts were for the cricketers and their families."