Pakistan declares: 'We are at war'

Pakistan in shock after masked gunmen ambush Sri Lankan cricket team, leaving seven people dead and six players injured
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The Independent Online

Pakistan declared that it was in a "state of war" after masked gunmen ambushed the Sri Lankan cricket team as they were on their way to play a Test match, injuring six players and their English assistant coach as well as killing seven Pakistanis.

The spectacular military-style raid in Lahore bore marked similarities to the assault in Mumbai last year, which left 172 people dead. Pakistani officials suggested the Islamist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the carnage in the Indian city, also carried out the attack in Lahore.

What happened yesterday is certain to stop sports teams from abroad visiting Pakistan for the foreseeable future and deals a grave blow to the country's plans to host the World Cup in 2011. It also highlights how security is disintegrating, with the civilian government seemingly unable to cope with the tide of violence unleashed by militants.

About a dozen armed men mounted the attack as the Sri Lankan team was being driven in a convoy to the Gaddafi Stadium, shooting out the tyres of buses before opening fire with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Six policemen and the driver of a bus carrying the match umpires were killed during a firefight lasting more than 15 minutes. Players and match officials, some of them bleeding from bullet and shrapnel wounds, huddled on the floor of their vehicles.

The Sri Lankan all-rounder Thilan Samaraweera suffered the worst injury after being hit on the thigh with grenade fragments. Among the others injured was Paul Farbrace, a former Kent cricketer who was assistant coach to the Test team. He said: "There was a lot of shouting and people hitting the floor and when I got to the floor I realised that the blood I could see was coming from me." A former England player acting as an official, Chris Broad, helped protect an injured umpire, Ahsan Raza.

Pakistan's President, Asif Ali Zardari, said he "strongly condemned" the attack and pledged that those responsible would be caught. Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister, said the country was in a "state of war... Be patient, we will flush all these terrorists out of the country".

Salmaan Taseer, the Punjab province's Governor, said: "It was the same terrorists who attacked Mumbai. It was the same pattern, the kind of weaponry they had, the way they attacked, they were obviously trained." He added that the gunmen had been chased into a nearby shopping area after the attack where police had lost track of them. The province's police chief, Khawaja Farooq, said "some" arrests had been made but refused to say whether they included any of those who had taken part in the attack.

The police displayed 10 AK-47 rifles, two grenade launchers, 32 hand grenades and plastic explosives.

Imran Khan, the Pakistani politician and former captain of the country's cricket team, said the Sri Lankan team had been given inadequate protection. "This was one of the worst security failures in Pakistan," he said.

The International Cricket Council cast doubts over Pakistan's ability to continue to host high-level games. "It's difficult to see international cricket being played in Pakistan for the foreseeable future," said its chief executive, Haroon Lorgat.