3 Mar 2009

NZC alarmed at 'frightening' attack on Sri Lankans

10:41 pm on 3 March 2009

New Zealand Cricket says an attack by gunmen on the Sri Lankan squad in Pakistan is a "frightening" development in sport.

At least five police officers escorting the team's bus were killed, while at least six of the Sri Lankan squad were injured in Lahore on Tuesday.

Pakistani officials said about 12 gunmen were involved and grenades and rocket launchers have been recovered.

In 2002, the New Zealand cricket team cut short their tour to Pakistan after a suicide bomber blew up a bus outside the their hotel in Karachi.

The Black Caps are scheduled to tour Pakistan at the end of this year.

But New Zealand Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan says these attacks are a new proposition altogether, and for the first time a cricket team appears to be the specific target of terrorist action.

News of the attack came as New Zealand and India were playing their one-day international at Napier. India won the match by 53 runs after rain cut short play.

The gunmen opened fire on a bus transporting the Sri Lankan squad to Gaddafi stadium, the venue for the second Test match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Witnesses reported an intense burst of heavy gunfire and explosions, as the gunmen first aimed for the police detail accompanying the team, before attacking the bus.

Officials in Lahore said two members of the Sri Lankan team - Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavitana - were sent to hospital. At least another four received minor wounds.

A Pakistani air force helicopter evacuated members of the Sri Lankan team from the stadium, after Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse condemned the "cowardly terrorist attack" and ordered the players' immediate evacuation.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but security has been tightened in Pakistan after increasing political unrest.

In December, India called off their tour of Pakistan in the wake of the deadly attacks in Mumbai, which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Sri Lanka, which had been invited to Pakistan after India pulled out, has cancelled the rest of the tour.

Commentators say Tuesday's incident may put an end to international cricket in Pakistan in the short term.