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Police step up manhunt for attackers of Sri Lanka cricketers

Latest update : 2009-03-04

Pakistani police have detained five people believed to have information about attackers who on Tuesday launched a brazen assault on Sri Lanka's cricket team. The ICC said Pakistan could not host cricket games until security improved.

AFP - Pakistan stepped up a manhunt on Wednesday for the armed militants behind a deadly ambush targeting Sri Lanka's cricket team, which has plunged the troubled nation deeper into crisis.

As Sri Lanka's wounded and shaken players arrived back in Colombo, Pakistani forces scoured this cosmopolitan eastern city for up to 12 attackers after the brazen assault that left eight dead and wounded eight of the touring party.

New Zealand said it was cancelling its upcoming tour of Pakistan, deepening the country's isolation after the International Cricket Council (ICC) cast doubt over its suitability as co-host of the 2011 World Cup.

The militants, who appeared young and well-trained, attacked the Sri Lankan convoy with rockets, grenades and automatic weapons on Tuesday, and then traded fire with security forces before fleeing in stolen cars.

Six Pakistani policemen guarding the team and two civilians were killed. Pakistani officials said five people were being interrogated, but there was no immediate public announcement of any leads.

"I have set up a very high-powered investigation team. An experienced officer is heading the team. God willing, we will give you good results," Khaled Farooq, chief of police in Punjab province, told a news conference.

There has been no claim of responsibility, but attention has focused on Islamic militants in Pakistan linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The attack also comes with Sri Lanka in a fierce civil conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels.

It was the first deadly direct assault against a sports team in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where over 1,600 people have died in a wave of Islamist attacks in 22 months.

Pakistani officials said the attack bore the hallmarks of the November 2008 assault on the Indian city of Mumbai, which was blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic militants.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse said the team, which had gone on the quickly arranged tour when India cancelled a trip after the Mumbai attacks, had travelled as "ambassadors of goodwill" to Pakistan.

"I condemn this cowardly terrorist attack," he said.

Sri Lankan players had an emotional reunion with their families at Colombo's international airport, where they flew in under tight security early on Wednesday on a specially chartered Sri Lankan Airlines flight.

Star batsman Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavithana, who both received gunshot wounds, were placed in an ambulance and taken to a private hospital in Colombo.

Spin bowler Ajantha Mendis was seen leaving the aircraft with a plaster behind his right ear. Seven players and assistant coach Paul Farbrace were hurt in the attack. The extent of their injuries was not announced.

"There was a lot of shouting and people hitting the floor and when I got to the floor I realised that the blood that I could see was coming from me -- luckily superficial wounds," Farbrace, a British national, told the BBC.

"Everyone is safe and all the players are out of danger," vice captain Kumar Sangakkara told the Indian news channel CNN-IBN.

New Zealand cricket chief Justin Vaughan said a tour set for November had been cancelled.

"We're not going and I think that's pretty clear," Vaughan told New Zealand radio.

The ICC warned that Pakistan could not host international cricket unless it improved security, raising doubts about the 2011 World Cup -- due to be co-hosted with Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh.

"It's difficult to ... see international cricket being played in Pakistan for the foreseeable future," ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat told a news conference in London.

Security fears stopped Australia touring Pakistan last year and New Zealand also turned down a one-day series. Last month, concerns raised by other teams forced the ICC to move the 2009 Champions Trophy out of Pakistan.


Date created : 2009-03-04