Attack brings terror to quiet Lahore neighbourhood

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The Independent Online

Blood, broken glass and a pack of playing cards lay on the road near Pakistan's main cricket stadium today after gunmen brought terror to the city of Lahore with an attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team.

Pakistan is well used to militant violence, but the eastern city of Lahore - the country's historic cultural centre - feels much safer than violence-plagued areas in the northwest, near the Afghan border.

That sense of security was shattered today when gunmen ambushed the Sri Lankan team's bus and their police escort as they went round a roundabout, about 500 metres from the 60,000-seater Gaddafi Stadium.

Five policemen were killed in the attack by the gunmen wielding AK 47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, and six members of the Sri Lankan team and their British assistant coach were wounded.

"I heard firing and a blast and I raced out of my store and saw two gunmen firing all over the place," said flower shop owner Abdul Shakoor.

"They were young boys, aged 20 to 25, with rucksacks and they were firing as they were running," he said.

A police pickup truck was riddled with bullets with blood on the front seat and in the back. Bullet casings and shattered glass littered the road and nearby a white car had stopped where it had hit the curb.

Police said they suspected some of the attackers arrived at the scene in the white car. One officer spread alarm when he said he thought there was a bomb in it and ordered reporters back.

The team bus was not at the scene of the attack, the driver having apparently managed to get it away. Television showed bullet holes in the bus and kit bags strewn on the floor.

The area around the stadium is upmarket, with wide roads lined by shops and offices.

At the scene of the attack, police picked up AK-47 magazines and one officer carried a couple of grenades in a plastic bag.

Not far off, a traffic police motorcycle was lying on the road, its fuel tank smeared with blood.

A pack of playing cards was scattered by the bike.

Faisal Ahmed was on his way to work when the shooting started.

"I was so surprised and didn't know what was going on. I hid in a shopping centre," said Ahmed, who was still shaking.

"It was very scary. I thought it was a clash between gangs."

The attack by young men with back-packs brought memories of November's attack in the Indian city of Mumbai but in Mumbai, nine of the attackers were killed and one captured.

The gunmen responsible for today's attack got away.

"It's like the Mumbai attack but here they've escaped and they're waiting to carry out another attack," said Mohammad Amjar, a middle-aged man with a long beard.

Teenager Firoz Shah blamed police for failing to protect the visiting cricket players in a cricket-mad country that several international teams have already refused to visit because of security fears.

"It's a failure of the police, they couldn't protect them. Who's going to come to our country now?" Shah asked with a shrug.