First arrest in Sri Lanka cricket attack

Image: Policemen escort a detained man to showcase before the media in Sri Lanka
Pakistani police escort a detained man to showcase before media at a police compound in Lahore, on Wednesday. Police say the man was involved in an attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team in Lahore in March. Mohsin Raza / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pakistani police have made their first arrest in the attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team, and allege the assailants planned to take the athletes hostage to demand the release of jailed comrades, a senior official said Wednesday.

Pervez Rathore, police chief in the city of Lahore where the March 3 attack occurred, said the arrested suspect, Mohammad Zubair, was a member of the Punjabi Taliban, an offshoot of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group that is accused of having al-Qaida ties.

Gunmen sprayed the Sri Lankan cricket team's bus with bullets and fired a rocket and a grenade as it traveled to a match against Pakistan in Lahore. Seven players were wounded and six police killed before the bus sped off and eventually reached the safety of the stadium.

Zubair has not been formally charged and is to appear in court soon, Rathore said.

Motive was to capture the cricketers
Zubair confessed to taking part in the attack and told police the motive was to capture the cricketers, Rathore said. Video footage showed Zubair shooting an injured traffic police officer as the attackers fled the scene, he said.

"The seven-member gang involved in the attack belongs to a banned militant organization and they wanted to take the Sri Lankan cricketers hostage," Rathore told reporters. "The whole plan ... aimed to get their arrested accomplices released."

The six other suspects have been identified but have disappeared, perhaps to Waziristan, a semiautonomous tribal area along the border with Afghanistan that is thought to be a haven for al-Qaida and Taliban militants, Rathore said.

He said Zubair had received militant training in Waziristan.

The attack was among the first in a dramatic uptick in violence in Pakistan this year. A string of assaults in the past few weeks has been blamed on militants seeking retaliation for a military offensive to oust the Taliban from the northwestern Swat Valley region.

More than 100 people have died in attacks in Pakistan since late May.

Attack keeping other teams away
The attack was among the highest-profile terrorist strikes on a sports team since the 1972 Munich Olympics, when Palestinian militants killed 11 Israeli athletes.

It ended Pakistan's hopes of hosting international cricket teams — or any high-profile sports events — anytime soon. Even before the attack, most cricket squads chose not to tour the country for security reasons.

The country has a web of militant networks, some with links to al-Qaida and the Taliban, which have staged other high-profile strikes in a bid to destabilize the government and punish it for its support of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.