At least 12 gunmen in Lahore, Pakistan, threw grenades, launched rockets and fired assault rifles on a convoy carrying Sri Lanka's cricket team today, the most sophisticated terrorist attack in more than a year in what has been the country's safest city.
The gunmen ambushed the players' bus as well as vans carrying police and cricket officials about a block from Lahore's Qaddafi stadium, causing two explosions and riddling the vehicles with bullets, local officials said.
The attack killed five police officers and one driver and injured nine police, five players and three cricket officials, according to cricket and police officials.
Despite what was described by local officials as "foolproof" security, all of the attackers escaped. Police in Lahore have ramped up their activities, cutting off the area around the stadium, conducting raids through the city and searching cars for militants.
Video from surveillance cameras shows masked men in a shootout with police that lasted approximately 20 minutes. In some images they do not seem to be under direct fire, taking aim at the convoy with little cover.
"This was a very organized team and a terrorist activity. A large amount of ammunition has been recovered," Habibur Rehman, Lahore's police chief, told ABC News. "Some people have been arrested and are being interrogated. This was a Mumbai-style attack."
The gunmen were dressed similarly to the gunmen who attacked Mumbai in November, carrying backpacks and assault rifles.
Salman Taseer, governor of the Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital, immediately blamed the "same hand" that was responsible for the Mumbai attack, though he offered no proof.
Pakistani authorities have blamed the Mumbai attacks on Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group that has received training and funding inside Pakistan and is believed to be based in the Punjab province.
"Especially in the Punjabi heartland, where you have some of the most dangerous terrorist groups now, banned by the U.N. Security Council, banned by the Pakistani government, but that seem to still have the infrastructure intact, and seem to be operating with impunity," said Samina Ahmed, the Pakistan country director for the International Crisis Group. "We've seen the attack in Mumbai, and now the attack here in Lahore, and the threats this poses -- not just to the stability and credibility to the elected government, but to regional and global stability."
Cricket is Pakistan's favorite sport and in some cases has even helped thaw relations between Pakistan and archrival India. Today, instead of hosting the match, the cricket turf became a helipad for the Pakistani military. An army helicopter arrived on the field about four hours after the attack to evacuate the cricket team.
Pakistan's International Isolation
The assault is expected to internationally isolate Pakistan even further than it is already. In the last year two cricket events have been canceled because of security fears, and nearly all Western countries advise their populations against traveling to Pakistan.
"That is the message: that the foreigners should not come here," Lahore's commissioner, Khusro Pervez Khan, told reporters.
It was the latest in a series of attacks that have targeted local culture in Lahore. In the last six months juice shops, a DVD market, an arts festival and movie theaters have all been attacked, though with nowhere near the sophistication as today's assault.
It also comes as a political crisis in Pakistan has sent thousands of protesters into the streets of Islamabad and Lahore, the center of a battle between the leading Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the main opposition party.
Some tried to quickly blame India, but most analysts believe it was an attempt to further destabilize a government that has been criticized as failing to take a militant threat seriously.
"This is a major attempt to undermine the writ of the state," Ahmed Rashid, author of "Taliban," told ABC News from his home in Lahore. "It was superbly planned. The bus was surrounded by police commandos and [the gunmen] obviously had inside information for the arrival of these people and the route they would take. This is a meticulous operation."
Lahore residents, already unsettled from the recent removal of the province's chief minister, said they were dazed their city could become a target yet again.
"There is a general feeling of disbelief that this would happen," one resident said. "Lahoris are cricket lovers so this is a disgrace in their eyes."
End to Cricket in Pakistan?
This is the first direct attack on cricket players in Pakistan, though a May 2002 suicide bombing damaged the Sheraton Hotel, where members of the New Zealand cricket team were staying.
But this incident is likely to end international cricket in Pakistan, at least for now. Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka are currently scheduled to host the 2011 World Cup.
"We pride ourselves on being a loving sporting nation, but if these kinds of things happen, well it's really sad," former Pakistani cricket captain Waqar Younis told a local television channel. "This is not good for our society or for our cricket. We wanted foreign teams to come and play but now it looks remote. … People will refuse to travel to our part of the world."