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Gunmen Ambush Sri Lanka Cricket Team in Pakistan

Pakistani officials say at least six people are dead after 12 gunmen attacked the police-escorted convoy transporting the Sri Lankan cricket team. Officials report five police officers and one driver were killed and six players and their British assistant coach were wounded. Despite a city-wide search, none of the attackers has been reported killed or captured. 

Witnesses of the brazen mid-morning attack said gunmen targeted the convoy when it was about 100 meters from Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium - Pakistan's premier cricket venue.  The convoy included several vehicles carrying police and commandoes. 

Pakistani umpire Nadeem Ghori was in a vehicle traveling behind the team bus when gunfire broke out.

He says when the explosions and firing started, one bullet hit the driver and killed him instantly.  He said the rest of us just laid down on the floor. 

One vehicle ahead, the driver of the Sri Lankan team bus, Mehar Mohammed Khalil, said gunmen fired on the three lead police cars before targeting his vehicle. 

He says the police cars swerved away and then a man with a rocket launcher fired on the bus.  The rocket missed, then he says a second man threw a grenade, which also went past its target.  He says a man driving in a nearby car then got out and shot at the front of the bus.  Khalil says he continued driving toward the stadium, where police reinforcements were beginning to launch a counterattack.

Witnesses said fighting lasted for 30 minutes, before the attackers fled.  A Pakistani television network filmed three of the gunmen while the assault was underway.  The footage showed unmasked men, carrying automatic weapons and backpacks. 

In Colombo, Sri Lankan officials denounced the incident as a "cowardly terrorist attack," but refrained from blaming Pakistani authorities for having lax security.  The foreign secretary said little could have been done to stop such an attack. 

Some of the Sri Lankan players were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment.  Others waited at the cricket stadium, until a Pakistani military helicopter landed on the pitch to fly them to the Lahore airport.

Sri Lankan officials say they are bringing the entire team home as soon as possible.  The Punjab governor said the attack resembled last November's terrorist attack in Mumbai, which India maintains was planned and carried out by Pakistanis.  There was some speculation the attack could have links to Sri Lanka's civil war, but analysts said it appeared unlikely.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said the perpetrators were enemies of Pakistan's "close, cordial and mutually supportive relationship" with Sri Lanka. 

The attack drew widespread media attention throughout South Asia, where cricket is a national sport.

The Sri Lankan team was standing in for India, which had withdrawn after the Mumbai attacks.  International cricket teams have been reluctant to come to Pakistan because of concerns over security - last year, Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies cancelled matches in Pakistan because of security concerns.

Indian officials responded to the attack by saying it unfortunately confirmed their fears the Indian team would not have been safe playing in Pakistan. 

An Australian cameraman who was in Lahore to film the match told Pakistani reporters the entire ordeal has damaged Pakistani cricket.

"I think it is a great pity.  I mean, Pakistan has been without cricket for 14 months.  We have been looked after very well, we have felt very safe," he said.  "It is so unfortunate for the future of Pakistan cricket because no teams are going to come here for a long time now.  It is such a shame."

Cricket watchers said it is unlikely Pakistan will participate in jointly holding the 2011 Cricket World Cup - the sport's biggest championship.

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