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7 die in Pakistan as gunmen fire on Sri Lanka cricket team

AT least a dozen men ambushed Sri Lanka's cricket team with rifles, grenades and rocket launchers yesterday as the athletes drove to the stadium ahead of a match in Pakistan, killing six policemen and a driver.

The attackers struck as a convoy carrying the squad and match officials reached a traffic circle 300 meters from the main sports stadium in the eastern city of Lahore, triggering a 15-minute gun battle with police guarding the vehicles.

Seven players, an umpire and a coach were wounded, none with life-threatening injuries.

The assault was one of the worst terrorist attacks on a sports team since Palestinian militants killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Yesterday's attackers melted away into the city, and none were killed or captured, city police chief Haji Habibur Rehman said.

Authorities did not speculate on the identities of the attackers or their motives, but the chief suspects will be Islamist militants, some with links to al-Qaida, who have staged high-profile attacks on civilian targets in the past.

The bus driver, Mohammad Khalil, accelerated as bullets ripped into the vehicle and explosions rocked the air, steering the team to the safety of the stadium. The players - some of them wounded - ducked down and shouted "Go! Go!" as he drove through the ambush.

The head of Pakistan's Interior Ministry, Rehman Malik, said the country was "in a state of war."

"We will flush out all these terrorists from this country," he vowed late yesterday.

Sri Lanka had agreed to the tour - allowing Pakistan to host its first test matches in 14 months - only after India and Australia backed out of scheduled trips over security concerns. The assault will end hopes of international cricket teams, or any sports teams, playing in the country for months, if not years.

Yesterday's attack came three months after the Mumbai terror strikes that killed 164 people. Those raids resembled the assault in Lahore in many respects.

Both were coordinated attacks and used multiple gunmen, apparently in teams of two, who were armed with explosives and assault rifles and apparently had little fear of death or capture.

Authorities will also consider possible links to Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels, who are being badly hit in a military offensive at home, though Sri Lankan military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said it was unlikely the group was involved.

Authorities canceled the test match against Pakistan's national team, and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered his foreign minister to immediately travel to Pakistan to help assist in the team's evacuation.

A special flight is expected to bring the players home in the early hours today, according to a Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry official.

TV footage of the attack showed at least two pairs of gunmen with backpacks firing from a stretch of grass and taking cover behind a small monument before moving on.

"These people were highly trained and highly armed. The way they were holding their guns, the way they were taking aim and shooting at the police, it shows they were not ordinary people," said Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province.


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