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LeT attackers wanted to hijack Lankan bus?

Source: PTI
March 05, 2009 19:16 IST
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Pakistani sleuths probing the Sri Lankan cricket team attack are trying to ascertain whether it was an attempt by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba to hijack the bus carrying the players in order to bargain for release of their operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, arrested over the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistani investigators say there is growing evidence to suggest the attack might have been planned by operatives of the LeT, who wanted to take the players hostage to demand the release of Lakhvi and other LeT operatives in custody in connection with the 26/11 strikes, The News daily reported online.

If the players were taken hostage, the militants would have demanded safe passage to Pakistan's tribal areas for Lakhvi and others in exchange for the Sri Lankan team.

Lakhvi and three other LeT operatives Zarar Shah, Abu al Qama and Hamad Amin Sadiq are currently in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, awaiting trial.

An anti-terrorism court judge extended their remand till March 17 on Tuesday, when the Sri Lankan team's convoy was attacked in Lahore.

Authorities said the appearance and tactics of the attackers and their selection of Lahore as the venue of the assault ruled out the involvement of all other groups except the LeT.

The outlawed group's founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, is under house arrest in Johar Town area of Lahore.

LeT's front group, Jamaat-ud-Dawah, has its headquarters in Muridke, about 40 kms from Lahore.

Lahore attack might have been inspired by the hijacking of an Indian airliner in 1999, which eventually compelled the Indian government to release Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammad, and two other terrorists in exchange for the passengers.

Pakistani officials have conceded that the security provided to the Sri Lankan team was inadequate and it was "sheer luck" that the 12 attackers failed to take the players hostage.

The bus was hit by at least 25 bullets though none of the cricketers was seriously injured.

Investigators believe the attackers started firing at the bus only after they failed to seize the vehicle.

Khawaja Khalid Farooq, the inspector general of Punjab police, said the terrorists were carrying sufficient weaponry to fight for many hours.

Working in pairs, the attackers carried walkie-talkies and backpacks stuffed with bottled water, almonds, biscuits and high energy food, which showed that they had anticipated a "protracted siege," he said.

Interior ministry chief Rehman Malik too has said the preparations made by the Lahore attackers indicated that they wanted to hijack the Sri Lankan team's bus.

Lakhvi hails from Punjab's Okara district, also the home of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone terrorist captured alive during the Mumbai attacks.

Lakhvi was arrested during a raid by the Pakistani soldiers near Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in December last year.

He is facing charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act and can be awarded the death penalty.

Kasab has told Indian and American investigators that the Mumbai attacks were planned and coordinated by Lakhvi. Indian officials have said Lakhvi, usually based in Muzaffarabad, moved to Karachi in August last year to direct the attacks on India's financial hub.

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