Sri Lankan team arrives home

LAHORE: The Sri Lanka cricket team has arrived home on early Wednesday, Geo News reported. The Sri Lankan players were also accompanied with three Pakistani doctors on flight.

Relieved relatives gave the tour party an emotional welcome as the 25-member contingent was led from a specially chartered Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus A320 by team manager Brendon Kuruppu.

Earlier, the Lankan team, following the Lahore attacks, had left Pakistan for home on Tuesday afternoon after it was taken from the Gaddafi Stadium through helicopter to the airport.

Special arrangements were made for bringing the tourists to the airport and a special helicopter of the Pakistan Air force took them from the Gaddafi Stadium to the Lahore airport. Following which, they were sent through a chartered flight to Sri Lanka via Abu Dhabi.

Chairman PCB Ijaz Butt, Director National Cricket Academy Aamer Sohail, chief operating officer Saleem Altaf and other officials saw-off the Sri Lankan players and the officials at Gaddafi Stadium

Star batsman Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavithana, who both received hospital treatment in Pakistan, were placed in an ambulance and taken to a private medical facility in Colombo, a senior official said.

Spin bowler Ajantha Mendis was seen leaving the aircraft with a plaster behind his right ear. A total of seven players and an assistant coach were hurt in the attack, which left eight people dead. Vice-captain Kumar Sangakkara, who was another wounded in Tuesday''s gun and grenade assault, told reporters that the players had been asked by team management not to speak with reporters.

Sri Lanka sports minister Gamini Lokuge also met the team at Bandaranaike International Airport, where security was tight, the official said.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, but some Sri Lankan officials fear a possible link with the military offensive against ethnic Tamil rebels in the island''s north.

Sri Lanka were airlifted from Gaddafi Stadium by helicopter before flying out of Lahore late Tuesday, abandoning a tour which was only arranged when India refused to visit their troubled neighbour.

At least a dozen men ambushed Sri Lanka''s cricket team with rifles, grenades and rocket launchers on Tuesday, converging on the squad''s convoy as it drove through a traffic circle near Gaddafi Stadium.

Seven players, an umpire and a coach were wounded, none with life-threatening injuries, but six policemen and a driver died.

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

''We were all tucked under the seats,'' Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene said when the team arrived home in Colombo early Wednesday. ''Our guys were getting hurt and screaming but we couldn''t help each other.

We were just hoping that we will not get hit. None of us thought that we would come alive out of the situation.'' The assault, just ahead of the resumption of the second cricket test, was one of the worst terrorist attacks on a sports team since Palestinian militants killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

By attacking South Asia''s most popular sport, the gunmen guaranteed themselves tremendous international attention while demonstrating Pakistan''s struggle to provide its 170 million people with basic security as it battles a raging Islamist militancy.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said the incident ''has humiliated the country'' and the head of the Interior Ministry, Rehman Malik, declared Pakistan was ''in a state of war.'' Malik told media that authorities were investigating whether the attackers wanted to take hostages.

''We are looking at the possibility the gunmen wanted to hijack the bus and take it to a nearby building and create a drama,'' Malik said. ''The way they came prepared and in large numbers indicates such a plan.''

Tuesday''s attackers melted away into the city, and none was killed or captured, city police chief Haji Habibur Rehman said. The attackers abandoned machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and plastic explosives, Punjab IG Khwaja Khalid Farooq said.

They carried backpacks stuffed with dried fruit, mineral water and walkie-talkies - provisions also abandoned at or near the scene, officials said.

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

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.

Authorities cancelled the test match against Pakistan and a special flight carried the Sri Lanka team - including two players who had been hospitalised - home, where the players were immediately sequestered to a private meeting with their families.