Suspicions grow that attack was 'inside job'
Conspiracy theories fuelled by security lapses as hunt for gunmen continues
By Omar Waraich in Lahore
Thursday, 5 March 2009
Dramatic footage showing the alleged perpetrators of Tuesday's audacious attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team making their getaway was released by a Pakistani news channel last night.
The grainy images, captured by four CCTV cameras minutes after the ambush, show the gunmen strolling calmly through the back streets of Liberty Market just before 9am. In one sequence, three of the men walk down a narrow, deserted street, carrying heavy bags and with weapons slung over their shoulders. They then mount a waiting motorcycle and speed away.
Yesterday, police released "wanted" posters bearing sketches of the suspects. Up to 14 masked gunmen took part in the attack on the Sri Lankan team's tour bus at the Liberty Square roundabout in the heart of Lahore. They opened fire on the bus, killing a driver and six police officers escorting the Sri Lankans. Six players and two assistant coaches were wounded.
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President Asif Ali Zardari has vowed the attackers will be caught and punished "with iron hands", but as detectives searched for clues to the whereabouts of the fugitives, the Lahore police commissioner Khusro Pervez confessed there had been "major security lapses". There was also confusion yesterday as officials made contradictory claims about the arrests so far. Mr Pervez said "some suspects" had been detained but that was denied by another senior officer.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government offered a 10 million rupee (£88,000) reward for information leading to the gunmen. The Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said officials were pursuing "important leads" and the government had "constituted a special team of investigators".
Opposition MPs and many in the Pakistani media have seized on the government's floundering and accused it of glaring intelligence failures. The Sri Lankan team agreed to tour Pakistan after being assured they would receive security equal to that given to the President. Instead, the authorities failed to take crucial measures to protect the squad. Their bus was accompanied by only two police vans, when it should have been boxed in on all four sides. Only the windscreen was bullet-proofed, and the driver was using the same vehicle and following the same route from the team's hotel to the cricket ground for the third day in a row. No attempt was made to block traffic or line the route with police.
"There was no outer cordon," Mr Pervez admitted. "When they were escorted, the [police] vehicles used were not the appropriate vehicles."
The numerous failings fuelled speculation that the attack might have been, at least in part, an "inside job". In previous terror attacks in Pakistan, the perpetrators appeared to have considerable intelligence about their targets. Car bombers have struck at army and anti-terror police headquarters in the past two years without the slightest hindrance.
The commando-style raid in Liberty Square drew comparisons with last November's attacks in Mumbai, India, which were blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba group and other jihadist organisations which were deployed as proxies by the army to fight in Indian-administered Kashmir.
The government has so far declined to acknowledge the possibility that Pakistani militants might have been involved. Rehman Malik, the chief interior ministry adviser, has claimed "a foreign hand" lay behind the attack on the cricketers – which has been widely interpreted as pointing the finger at neighbouring India.
Some Pakistani newspapers have suggested that the Indian intelligence service was involved, while others have urged Pakistani leaders to shed their differences and unite in a common effort to tame rising militancy and terrorism. "Politicians need to wake up, bury the hatchet in the national good and rout the real enemy," said an editorial in the English-language daily, Dawn. In Lahore yesterday, a stream of mourners gathered at the scene of the attack to lay flowers near a sign saluting the bravery of a slain traffic police officer, Tanveer Iqbal.