Pakistani government officials said they had identified the suspects involved in Tuesday's attack on the Sri Lankan national cricket team and were stepping up their search for the fugitive gunmen.
"We have identified the people who did the operation. We have made arrests, we are chasing them, we have rounded up people," said Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab province. "I am going to give you details in the next few days."
Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, was quoted by local media as saying that al-Qa'ida could have been involved in the attack in Lahore. The terror group, based in Pakistan's remote tribal belt along the Afghan border, is believed to behind a number of previous attacks in the country, in league with local militant groups.
The failure of the Pakistani government to protect the Sri Lankan team and capture the gunmen has triggered widespread criticism, while fears are growing over the stability of the country against a backdrop of mounting militant attacks and deepening political turmoil. In a reminder of the threat posed by hardline militant groups, a grenade attack injured at least 21 people yesterday at a 17th-century shrine in the north-western town of Dera Ismail Khan.
The Australian umpire Simon Taufel, who was officiating in the Test, became the latest voice to criticise the poor security provided to the Sri Lankan cricketers' convoy. He accused the police of leaving the team "helpless" as the gunmen attacked from all sides. "You tell me why supposedly 25 armed commandos were in our convoy and when the team bus got going again we were left on our own," he told the Australian media, echoing the remarks made by British match referee, Chris Broad, earlier this week.
But Ijaz Butt, chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, hit back at the criticism, saying: "There is not a single bit of truth in [Chris Broad's] statements." Mr Butt said that a formal complaint would be lodged about the remarks with the International Cricket Council, adding that a policeman was shot in the neck trying to protect the match referee and his colleagues. A total of six policemen were killed in the attack.
In a rare public appearance, the former president Pervez Musharraf said that the police should have killed the gunmen on sight. "If this was the elite force, I would expect them to have shot down those people who attacked them," he told reporters in Lahore. "The reaction and their training should be of a level that if anybody shoots towards something that they are guarding, in less than three seconds they should shoot the man down."
Leading members of the Pakistani opposition joined the chorus of criticism yesterday. "The security system in Pakistan under this regime has collapsed because this government is too busy doing other things. They are too busy in their quest for power," said Mushahid Hussain, a prominent senator. "They should be held responsible."
Shahbaz Sharif, the former chief minister of Punjab – who was ousted after President Asif Ali Zardari imposed governor's rule on Punjab last month – has accused the government of creating an administrative vacuum that contributed to security failures. But Mr Taseer struck back yesterday, accusing Mr Sharif of failing to alert him to the looming security threat.
It remains unclear why the Pakistani team bus left later than scheduled, fuelling speculation that the gunmen may have exploited the gap to target the Sri Lankans when they were alone and at their most vulnerable. Lahore's top police official has confessed to "certain security lapses, which are very vivid and very clear". Such failures include the absence of a police cordon, the decision not to clear the route of traffic and line it with marksmen, and not using alternative routes and vehicles.
The team was steered to safety within the grounds of the Gaddafi cricket stadium by the driver, Mohammed Mehar Khalil. Yesterday, as Mr Khalil was being garlanded and financially rewarded for the heroism that may have saved the Sri Lankans' lives, it emerged that his brother had been killed in 1995 while fighting as a jihadist in Kashmir.Reuse content