LAHORE, Pakistan - 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 yesterday.
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 accused of having al-Qaeda 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 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, he said.
The six other suspects have been identified but have disappeared, perhaps to Waziristan, a semiautonomous tribal area along the border with Afghanistan, Rathore said.
The attack was among the first in a dramatic uptick in violence in Pakistan this year. A string of assaults in the last few weeks has been blamed on extremists seeking retaliation for a military offensive to oust the Taliban from the Swat Valley region. More than 100 people have died in attacks in Pakistan since late May.
In Peshawar yesterday, the international airport there was shut down after an intelligence report warned of a possible attack against civilian aircraft by an extremist group based in the adjoining tribal region, the Los Angeles Times reported. Flights were diverted to Benazir International Airport in Islamabad, about 100 miles away.