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Pakistanis Shocked By Attack On Cricketers

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

To Pakistan now, where a manhunt is under way. Authorities are looking for up to a dozen gunmen who attacked a bus carrying Sri Lanka's national cricket team. They killed at least seven people, mostly policemen. The cricketers survived and are now returning home, though several were treated for bullet wounds. The attack, in the city of Lahore, has stunned South Asia.

NPR's Philip Reeves was at the scene today and he sent this report.

PHILIP REEVES: Cricket is a passion in South Asia and its national players are seen as superstars. Today's assault has shaken the region to its core. The attack happened this morning as the Sri Lankan team was traveling by bus to a stadium to continue a five-day game against Pakistan.

(Soundbite of sirens)

REEVES: The gunmen struck here, at a circle in the heart of Lahore's Liberty Square. Armed with Kalashnikovs and grenades, the gunmen arrived in several cars, blocked the traffic, and pumped bullets into the bus and a police van escorting it. The players dived for cover. They had a lucky escape.

Abdul Bhat(ph), a passerby, says he saw a rocket-propelled grenade fly through the air.

Mr. ABDUL BHAT (Witness): (Through Translator) There was a guy with a rocket launcher. He was trying to target the bus, and he fired the rocket. He tried to target the bus but the target missed the bus.

REEVES: That grenade landed here, in the front of a boutique selling wedding clothes. The owner shows off the damage as workmen clean up. His 18-year-old son, Satil Dareek(ph), stands next to him. Dareek's an accountancy student beginning his career in a nation that seems to be teetering on the verge of collapse. Today's attack left him in despair.

Mr. SATIL DAREEK (Accounting Student): I feel like going out of my country. I feel like leaving this world and going somewhere else where we can have peace, we can study in a good environment, we can share our feelings, we don't have any hassles and (unintelligible) over there.

REEVES: The attack on the Sri Lankans comes three months after gunmen besieged the Indian city of Mumbai, killing more than 170 people. That assault, launched from Pakistan, was blamed on Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist militant group created several decades ago to fight Pakistan's proxy war in Kashmir.

Pakistan's government's angered by Indian allegations that Pakistan's intelligence agencies were involved in the Mumbai attacks.

Although the assault on the Sri Lankan team was much smaller, Pakistani officials were today quick to see similarities with those attacks.

Khusro Pervez, Lahore's top civil administrator, addressed reporters at the scene of today's attack.

Mr. KHUSRO PERVEZ (Lahore Commissioner): One similarity which we have found out was that the group of people is around 10 to 12. The second is that they targeted the team from three different places. The third is they were highly sophisticated and they were very well trained.

REEVES: A few yards away, Faziq Houtein(ph) is clutching a handwritten sign addressed to the Sri Lankan cricket team.

Mr. FAZIQ HOUTEIN: Well, I have written that you are brave and we wish you very long life. You are great.

REEVES: Pakistanis was delighted when Sri Lanka agreed to play cricket on their soil after other international teams declined to come, viewing the place as too dangerous. So, when Faziq Houtein heard about the attack on the Sri Lankans, he says he felt shame.

Mr. HOUTEIN: I was coming to see this match today when I saw this thing on my TV. And then I thought that I should go and see something or say something from my conscience that these things should not happen because we people in Pakistan, so please, for God's sake, stop this terrorism. Stop this terrorism. Stop this terrorism.

REEVES: Stopping the attacks means figuring out who did them. That isn't going to be easy. The gunmen all escaped. Pakistan's authorities are promising a thorough investigation, but they've said the same thing after other recent big attacks, with few results.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.