x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Police had 'detailed' warning of terror plot

A power struggle between Pakistan's two major political parties is blamed for a security lapse that enabled terrorists to attack the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team.

LAHORE // A power struggle between Pakistan's two major political parties was blamed yesterday for a security lapse that enabled terrorists to attack the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team. Pakistani police hunted yesterday for gunmen who mounted an audacious, commando-style gun and bomb attack on the team in Lahore that killed seven people and wounded 19, including seven cricketers and their British coach. Criticism of the security provided for the Sri Lankan cricket team was based on the lack of security along the route from the hotel to the cricket stadium, the fact that the bus was not bullet-proof and that authorities had not heeded a warning of a possible attack. CCTV footage broadcast by the Geo news television channel showed three gunmen calmly walking in a side street after the attack with no evidence of being pursued by security forces. The footage shows two gunmen leaving on a motorcycle. A former England cricketer, Chris Broad, who was match referee for the Pakistan-Sri Lankan second test, expressed his anger towards Pakistan for providing inadequate protection and criticised its security forces, who he said ran for cover during the attack. "I am extremely angry that we were promised high-level security and in our hour of need that security vanished," he said. "I raised my concerns with the [International Cricket Council] before the tour started and they passed on those concerns to the Pakistan Cricket Board and they assured me through e-mail that all security would be taken care of, presidential-style security. And clearly that didn't happen."

The Lahore city police chief, Habib-ur Rehman, rebutted the deluge of general criticism. "It was precisely because of police valour and bravery that the Sri Lankan team and the international umpires survived," he said. Attention has focused on changes made to the senior echelon of the Punjab provincial police force on the eve of the attacks that may have led to a security warning of an imminent attack on the Sri Lankan team going unheeded. The Punjab has been the scene of bitter political tension in the last week since the Supreme Court barred Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, and his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, the provincial governor, from holding office. The federal government, led by Asif Ali Zardari, the president, then installed its own administration, and the upper ranks of the police and administration were replaced. The inspector general of the Punjab police, Shaukat Javed, was replaced along with a Capital City police officer, Pervez Rathore, a detective inspector general of investigation and nine other senior officers. Mr Javed confirmed to The National he had issued the warning of the terrorist threat. The criminal investigation department of the Punjab is reported to have issued a warning to the government in a letter on Jan 22 that an attack would be carried out by India. "The letter was sent and contained very specific information," Mr Javed said. "Since I left charge two days ago I cannot say whether the detailed security plan we made - that would have made sure that such an attack would not have happened - was implemented."

Mr Javed said it would "not be proper" for him to comment on the security arrangements for the Sri Lankan team made by his successor. The News newspaper published the letter yesterday, saying the warning was sent to Kamal Shah, the federal interior secretary, "for perusal and necessary action". "It has been reliably learnt that RAW [the Indian intelligence agency] has assigned its agents the task to target Sri Lanka Cricket Team during its current visit to Lahore, especially while travelling between the hotel and stadium or at a hotel during their stay," the letter said. Police and administration officials met on Jan 23 to assess the threat, but before action could be taken, the government of Punjab, which is run by the party of Mr Sharif, was dismissed, after a court ruling. Critics have said the political struggle has deflected attention away from Pakistan's campaign against terrorists, not least because police officers have been deployed to control anti-government riots staged by Mr Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League. Senior officers have been involved in planning to scotch a four-day anti-government "long march" scheduled to leave Lahore for the capital, Islamabad, on March 12. On the day of the attacks in Lahore, Shahbaz Sharif, spent several hours railing against Mr Zardari. His party staged an anti-government protest a few kilometres from the scene of attack. But even those among Mr Zardari's allies, including Aftab Sherpao, a former interior minister, have criticised the government for lax security. Imran Khan, a former cricketer and opposition politician, told ITV News: "It's the government of Punjab that is responsible for this because it is shocking - the sort of security they provided the Sri Lankan team after having given them guarantees that all the security concerns would be taken care of. A normal minister in Pakistan ? would have got better security than was provided to the Sri Lankans." The Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, acknowledged that senior police officials had been changed, but the home secretary, responsible for security in the province, had remained in office. The Punjab chief secretary, Naguibullah Malik, told Dawn, a daily newspaper, the reshuffle had no effect: "Transferred officials do not take away with them the institutional memory." The home secretary, Nadeem Hasan, said an investigation was under way to establish whether security guidelines had been followed. iwilkinson@thenational.ae