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Sri Lankan team's narrow escape
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 04 - 03 - 2009

Bus driver Mohammad Khalil kept his foot on the gas as bullets ripped into the vehicle and explosions rocked the air, steering Sri Lanka's cricket team to the safety of the stadium – and likely saving many lives.
The players – some of them wounded – ducked down and shouted “Go! Go!” as he drove through the ambush.
“All of us were taken aback,” said Khalil, who described the events to local news channels. “I did not stop and kept moving.”
At least 12 men armed with grenades, rocket launchers and automatic weapons attacked the team bus Tuesday at a roundabout close to the Gaddafi stadium in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. Attackers fired a rocket that caused a “huge explosion” next to the bus but did not damage it, Khalil said.
Seconds later, an attacker jumped in front of the bus and hurled a grenade at it, which also missed, he said.
The bus wound up with 25 bullet holes, its front windshield shattered. When it reached the stadium, bloodied players were taken out.
Sri Lankan team captain Mahela Jayawardene shouted: “Get more ambulances in here! Get more ambulances in here,” according to Tony Bennet, an Australian cameraman covering the match.
Two wounded players were transported to a hospital.
Five players and an assistant coach suffered minor injuries. As team members waited in the dressing room, some talked on phones with friends or family. One drank a cup of tea.
The attack will end Pakistan's chances of hosting international cricket in the near future and underscores its reputation as unstable and dangerous. The Sri Lankans agreed to play Pakistan after India backed out of games after November's Mumbai attacks, which it blamed on Pakistani militants.
Officials said the assault appeared coordinated and the gunmen well-trained and well-armed.
TV footage of the attack showed gunmen with backpacks firing as they retreated from the scene. Several damaged vehicles were left behind as well as a lone, unexploded grenade. Other video showed the bodies of three people crumpled on the ground.
Security forces had cordoned off the stadium by 9:15 A.M. about a half hour after the attack began. Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Ijaz Butt arrived later in the hour and met with the team management as authorities arranged helicopters to take the players away.
As players approached the helicopters on the stadium turf, some looked tense and in shock.
Later Tuesday, Pakistani team captain Younis Khan said he spoke to some of the Sri Lankan players and that they had praised the driver's quick response. Khan said Sri Lankan player Muttiah Muralitharan “gave his shirt and a cash award to the driver.”
The area around the stadium is upmarket, with wide roads lined by shops and offices.
Faisal Ahmed was on his way to work when the shooting started.
“I was so surprised and didn't know what was going on. I hid in a shopping centre,” said Ahmed, who was still shaking. “It was very scary. I thought it was a clash between gangs.”
At the scene of the attack, police picked up AK-47 magazines and one officer carried a couple of grenades in a plastic bag. Not far off, a traffic police motorcycle was lying on the road, its fuel tank smeared with blood . A pack of playing cards was scattered by the bike.
“I heard firing and a blast and I raced out of my store and saw two gunmen firing all over the place,” said flower shop owner Abdul Shakoor.
“They were young boys, aged 20 to 25, with rucksacks and they were firing as they were running,” he said.
A police pickup truck was riddled with bullets with blood on the front seat and in the back. Bullet casings and shattered glass littered the road and nearby a white car had stopped where it had hit the curb. Police said they suspected some of the attackers arrived at the scene in the white car. One officer spread alarm when he said he thought there was a bomb in it and ordered reporters back.
Gavin Scovell, the director of Ten Sports TV, was at the stadium, preparing for the day's coverage, when he heard two explosions and gunfire.
“I ran to the Sri Lankan dressing room and saw several of the players being stretchered in,” he said. “There was no panic, they were very calm.”
The attack by young men with back-packs brought memories of November's attack in the Indian city of Mumbai. But in Mumbai, nine of the attackers were killed and one captured. The gunmen responsible for Tuesday's attack got away.
“It's like the Mumbai attack but here they've escaped and they're waiting to carry out another attack,” said Mohammad Amjar, a middle-aged man with a long beard.
Teenager Firoz Shah blamed police for failing to protect the visiting cricket players in a cricket-mad country that several international teams have already refused to visit because of security fears. “It's a failure of the police, they couldn't protect them. Who's going to come to our country now?” Shah asked with a shrug.

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