Lahore Cricket Attack Shows Signs of Inside Job

Five-minute gap fuels conspiracy theory over Lahore terror attack

Times OnLine :-

An unexplained five-minute delay in the Pakistani cricket team schedule has fuelled speculation that the gunmen who launched a terror attack against the Sri Lankan Test team this week were acting on inside information.

After a furious tirade by the English match referee, Chris Broad, yesterday, both an Australian umpire and Sri Lanka's star spin bowler fed the conspiracy theory today, questioning the level of security and the timing of events.

"You tell me why supposedly 20 armed commandos were in our convoy and when the team bus got going again, we were left on our own?" Simon Taufel, the umpire, angrily told reporters as he arrived at Sydney airport. "I don't have any answers to these questions ... We were left on our own in our time of need."

Mr Taufel told The Times that while the two teams had travelled to the stadium together on the first two days of the match, on Tuesday they made the journey separately.

"One thing I have been impressed about in Pakistan as that logistically they are usually very well organised. They normally depart on time," he said. "We knew we were departing at 8.30 am on the third morning. As to why the Pakistani team left at a different time, I don't know."

He was backed by Muttiah Muralitharan, the most successful bowler in Test history, who questioned whether the terrorists had inside information.

"Somehow in this incident there were no police with guns on the bus," the Sri Lankan spinner told the radio station FIVEaa in Adelaide. "If someone was there with a gun we would have had a chance of defending ourselves.

"Normally all the buses go and we have four or five escorts. We left at 8.30am and Younus Khan [with the Pakistan team bus] at 8.35am. We divided into two - maybe they knew the information for the right time."

Mr Taufel and his fellow Australian umpire, Steve Davis, were with Mr Broad on a bus carrying officials following the Sri Lankan team coach when at least 12 gunmen staged an ambush at a roundabout near the Gaddafi stadium. The attack left eight people dead including their driver and six police officers. Eight Sri Lankan players were wounded.

Yesterday Mr Broad said that the attack could have been part of a wider conspiracy and accused Pakistani security forces of leaving the vehicles like "sitting ducks".

"We were promised high-level security, and in our hour of need that security vanished," he told reporters on his return to Britain. He also questioned the Pakistani team delay.

The criticism came as Pakistani police issued sketches today of four of the gunmen, taken from witness accounts from a car owner and a rickshaw driver, according to the city police inspector, Asif Rashid.

"They appear to be 25 to 30 years old," he said.

As he greeted his wife, Helen, and sons Jack and Harry at Sydney airport, a furious Mr Taufel said that he felt abandoned, and expected to be shot at any minute as bullets peppered the officials' van.

"The gunfire ... it just kept going," he told reporters. "We thought, 'When's it going to stop? Who's going to come and save us, how are we going to get out of here?' I was expecting to get a bullet.

"The side door shattered, the front window shattered, the driver got shot in the neck. He started to moan.

"The driver got a second bullet to the head, his foot fell on the accelerator. It was quite loud. We didn't know he was dead.”

Mr Taufel said that there were three vans and four police motorcycles in their convoy but after the attacks they were on their own. "There were no other police vehicles, or any other police defending us," he said. "There was no one protecting us during the firing.

"We were isolated, left alone, unaccounted for. We were not given the same security as the playing staff. We were defenceless, helpless, left on our own. I am angry that we were isolated, that we didn't get the same level of security. I am angry.

He added: "We were promised a 9 [out of 10 on security] and got delivered a 2.

"Our van was caught in a situation where we were wholly exposed. It is not a situation I have been in before," he said. "Cricket has suffered a great loss. It is just a bloody game of cricket and we are in a war.”

Mehar Mohamnmed Khalil, the driver of the Sri Lankan bus, told The Times again today that the Sri Lankan and Pakistani teams had driven separately, with separate escorts, to the stadium for the first two days of the Test match.

Mr Khalil, who was debriefed by Pakistani police on Tuesday evening, said that the Sri Lankan team's escort included four police vans with six armed officers in each, one police jeep carrying the commanding officer, and four police outriders.

He also denied that the Pakistani team had been delayed by five minutes, or that the security escort had been split between the two teams.

His version of events has now been contradicted by Mr Muralitharan and three other passengers in the convoy.

Younis Khan, the Pakistani captain, told a news conference on Tuesday: "Thank God we decided to leave our hotel five minutes after the Sri Lankans."

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, told a news conference with his Sri Lankan counterpart that investigators were following important leads that would eventually unearth the culprits.

Rohitha Bogollagama, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, said that 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.

Khusro Pervaiz, the Lahore administrator, admitted that police had warned authorities that the Sri Lankan team was at risk.

"It's correct that we were forewarned ... there were many pieces of information which came to us," he told Pakistan's Dawn Television. Security for the team could have been "much, much better", he said.

Officials have offered a reward of $125,000 (£89,000) for information about the men responsible for the attack. A large weapons cache, anti-personnel mines and two unexploded car bombs were found at the scene.