LAHORE, Pakistan, (Reuters) – Pakistani police were searching yesterday for a breakthrough in their investigation nearly 48 hours after gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team and then melted away.
The ambush on the team and its police escorts as they drove to the main stadium in Lahore has shocked the cricket-mad country and raised new fears about nuclear-armed Pakistan’s ability to overcome the militant threat.
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 top Lahore official said investigators had warned the authorities of just such an attack.
Police, desperate for leads, have rounded up scores of people without establishing any link, according to officials. One investigator told Reuters they had found a cellphone that had led to the arrest of at least one real suspect.
“We’ve made some arrests, one through a SIM card, but there has been no major catch,” city police chief Habib-ur Rehman told said late yesterday, referring to a device that holds information in a mobile phone.
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.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news conference with his Sri Lankan counterpart investigators were following important leads that would eventually unearth the culprits.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said it was the first attack on Sri Lankans outside the country and he did not rule out the possibility that the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were involved.
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 government of Punjab province, of which Lahore is capital, has offered a reward of $125,000 for information on the attackers, who were armed with AK-47s, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades.
Television footage showed the gunmen, some of whom appeared to be in their early 20s, wearing track suits and trainers and shalwar kameez, traditional long shirt and baggy trousers.
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 Qaeda.
Arch nationalists would relish the discovery of a link between rival India and the Lahore attack.
Commentators have mentioned similarities between the Lahore attack and November’s assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in which nearly 180 people were killed. India blamed Pakistani militants and their security agency handlers.