Sri Lankan team tells of terror as bullets riddled bus

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The Independent Online

The Sri Lankan players cracked jokes and listened to music. Some called home. The coach took a cat-nap. Everyone seemed relaxed as their luxury bus headed to the cricket stadium for their match against Pakistan.

"Then all of a sudden, all hell broke loose," Sri Lankan coach Trevor Bayliss said. Gunfire tore through the bus. Explosions rattled near by. The players huddled on the floor, one after the other saying they had been hit. And it seemed as if no one fired back, players said.

For several terrifying minutes, the Sri Lankan cricket team lay helpless, under siege by gunmen armed with assault rifles, grenades and rockets who ambushed their convoy outside the cricket stadium in Lahore.

Sri Lanka had agreed to play in Pakistan only after being assured its sportsmen would enjoy the same level of security accorded a visiting head of state, said the captain Mahela Jayawardene.

The players left the hotel at 8.30am for the 15-minute drive to the stadium in a convoy of police Jeeps, motorcycles and an ambulance. As the convoy approached a traffic circle outside the stadium, two explosions and a burst of gunfire rang out.

Tillakaratne Dilshan, a player in the front of the bus, saw two white cars reverse toward the convoy. One slammed into the traffic circle, then the driver climbed out and began shooting at the bus driver, he said. Two more gunmen got out of the second car and joined the attack. "I shouted, 'They are shooting at us; everyone down'," Dilshan said.

Then Jayawardene saw two police officers on a motorcycle falling to the ground. Mehar Khalil, the Pakistani bus driver, said there were 10 to 12 young attackers. One fired a rocket, but it missed. Others threw two hand grenades, but they also missed.

The players and coaches scrambled to the floor. "After that, we were just hearing bullet after bullet thump into the bus," said Kumar Sangakkara. "We were hearing gunshots, a few explosions and you could see bullets sometimes hitting a seat."

Bayliss said: "Everything was very calm and very quiet, and every now and then someone would say, 'I'm hit', and then someone else said, 'So am I', and someone else said, 'I'm hit as well'," he said. Jayawardene felt his foot go numb. A bullet had grazed his ankle. Tharanga Paranavitana suffered a gunshot wound to the chest, Sangakkara was hit by shrapnel in a shoulder. Thilan Samaraweera was shot in the leg.

The bus stood still for about a minute and a half as the attackers fired at will, the players said. As far as the players could tell, there was no police gunfire at the attackers. People in the front began yelling, "Go, go, go", and the driver fumbled with the gears before manoeuvring the bus into the stadium, amid a fresh hail of bullets.

The bus was drenched in blood. The driver counted 35 bullet holes. "All the seats had bullet holes in them," Jayawardene said. "If we had stayed in the seats, we would have been dead."