Published March 04, 2009
LAHORE, Pakistan – Pakistan published photos of two of the militants who ambushed Sri Lanka's cricket team and offered a reward Wednesday for help tracking the men who killed six police, wounded seven players and exposed the country's inability to prevent terrorism.
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".
The assault Tuesday in the eastern city of Lahore by between 12 and 14 assailants bore many similarities to last year's three-day hostage drama in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai.
Working in pairs, the attackers in Lahore carried walkie-talkies and backpacks stuffed with water, dried fruit and other high-energy food — a sign they anticipated a protracted siege and may have been planning to take the players hostage, an official said.
None of the gunmen were killed and all apparently escaped into this teeming city after a 15-minute gunbattle with the convoy's security detail.
Besides the six police officers, a driver of a vehicle in the convoy was also killed, officials said. Seven Sri Lankan players, a Pakistani umpire and a coach from Britain were wounded, none with life-threatening injuries.
Even though the bus was peppered with 25 bullet holes, none of the cricket players were killed. The attack was among the highest-profile terrorist strikes on a sports team since the 1972 Munich Olympics, when Palestinian militants killed 11 Israeli athletes.
Pakistan's Punjab provincial government took out advertisements in newspapers Wednesday offering a $125,000 reward.
The ad showed two alleged attackers, one dressed in brown and the other blue, and both carrying backpacks and guns. The image was taken from TV footage of the event.
By targeting a much-loved sport in Pakistan and elsewhere in South Asia, the gunmen were certain to draw international attention to the government's inability to provide basic security as it battles militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban and faces accusations that it is harboring terrorists.
The attack ended Pakistan's hopes of hosting international cricket teams — or any high profile sports events — for months, if not years. Even before Tuesday, most cricket squads chose not to tour the country for security reasons. India and Australia had canceled tours, and New Zealand announced Tuesday it was calling off its December tour.
The International Cricket Council said it would review Pakistan's status as co-host of the 2011 World Cup.
Authorities canceled the test match against Pakistan and a special flight carried the Sri Lanka team — including Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavitana who had been hospitalized with bullet wounds — home, where the exhausted-looking players had an emotional private meeting with their families.
One of the players was taken from the airport to a hospital in Colombo.
"I'm very happy that I could see my family, and come back to Sri Lanka in one piece," said captain Mahela Jayawardene, who was cut on the foot in the attack. "Every breath I take I'm glad that I can take it without a problem."
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama flew to Pakistan to discuss the incident, Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona said.
Pakistan has a web of Islamist militant networks, some with links to al-Qaida and the Taliban, which have staged other high-profile strikes in a bid to destabilize the government and punish it for its support of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.