Pakistan issues sketches of gunmen

Thursday 05 March 2009 14:43

Pakistani police issued sketches today of four of the gunmen who attacked Sri Lanka's cricket team but no breakthrough had emerged two days after the militants fired and then melted away.

The ambush on the team and its police escorts as they drove to the main stadium in Lahore shocked cricket-mad Pakistan and raised new fears about the nuclear-armed US ally's ability to overcome the threat of rising Islamist militancy.

Seven Pakistanis - six policemen and the driver of a bus carrying match officials - were killed in Tuesday's attack.

Faced with angry finger-pointing over the failure of the police to protect the team, a senior Lahore official said investigators had warned the authorities of just such an attack.

Police handed the media sketches of four of the 12 gunmen.

"The sketches were made from the accounts of a car owner and a rickshaw driver," said city police inspector Asif Rashid.

"They appear to be 25 to 30 years old," he said.

Six Sri Lankan players were wounded along with two team officials, including a British assistant coach. They flew back to Colombo along with the rest of their party later on Tuesday.

Two Australian umpires and an English referee caught up in the attack slammed the security arrangements and said they were abandoned by Pakistani security forces once the shooting began.

"We were caught in a war zone," umpire Simon Taufel told reporters on his return to Australia.

ICC match referee Chris Broad told a news conference in Manchester he and other match officials had been left like "sitting ducks" when the attack began.

Pakistan police, desperate for leads, have rounded up scores of people without establishing any link, according to officials, although one investigator told Reuters they had found a cellphone that had led to the arrest of at least one real suspect.

There is a long list of possible suspects.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said in Islamabad yesterday it was the first attack on Sri Lankans outside the country and he did not rule out the possibility the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were involved.

Speculation has otherwise focused largely on two Pakistani Islamist militant groups - Lashkar-e-Taiba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi - as well as the Pakistani Taliban.

Police had warned authorities that the Sri Lankan team was at risk, said Lahore administrator Khusro Pervaiz.

"It's correct that we were forewarned ... there were many pieces of information which came to us," he told Dawn Television.

Pervaiz did not elaborate but said security for the team could have been "much, much better".

The consequences for Pakistani cricket would appear dire.

Even before the attack many countries refused to come to Pakistan and today Bangladesh postponed a visit there by the Pakistani team this month over security concerns.

Former president Pervez Musharraf said Pakistani cricket was almost finished.

Musharraf, who has been keeping a low profile since stepping down as president in August, also told reporters the special police guarding the Sri Lankan team should have responded and killed the attackers in less than three seconds.

"That should be the level of training that I expect from an elite force ... we need to improve that standard," former army chief Musharraf said.

Pakistan, beset by economic problems, has reeled under a wave of bomb and gun attacks in recent years, mostly carried out by militants linked to the Taliban or al-Qa'ida.

The civilian government which came to power a year ago is also embroiled in a confrontation with the main opposition party over a court ruling banning its leaders from elected office and forcing the party's government from power in Punjab province.

Anti-government lawyers backed by opposition political parties are due to launch a cross-country motor convoy on 12 March to press for an independent judiciary and plan to begin an indefinite sit-in near parliament on 16 March.

Authorities have offered a reward of $125,000 for information on the attackers, who were armed with AK-47s, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades.

Commentators have mentioned similarities between the Lahore attack and November's assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in which nearly 170 people were killed. India blamed Pakistani militants and their security agency handlers for that attack.

Like many other countries, Australia says its citizens should reconsider the need to travel to Pakistan because of the threat of militant attacks. It reissued its travel warning on Thursday, saying attacks could occur "at any time, anywhere in Pakistan".

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