Cricket attack: Pakistan seeks Lanka’s help in probe

By Leon Berenger

Pakistani authorities have sought assistance from Colombo in the on-going probe into the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka national cricket team in Lahore last Tuesday, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told The Sunday Times.

He, however, declined to elaborate, but added that the US and Australia had also offered to assist Pakistan in the investigations. Sri Lanka has asked Pakistan to conduct what it called a “thorough investigation" into Tuesday’s Lahore terrorist attack on the country's cricket team and urged that Colombo be kept informed periodically of the findings.

This is the crux of the message delivered to Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari by Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was conveyed to the Pakistani leader by Foreign Minister Bogollagama during talks with President Zardari in Islamabad on Wednesday. Mr. Bogollagama, who was a member of President Rajapaksa's entourage to Nepal, was despatched directly to the Pakistani capital for crisis talks there.

In the light of this, Foreign Ministry sources told The Sunday Times that the Government would not ask Pakistan for a joint inquiry but would provide any assistance required. Mr. Bogollagama also urged President Zardari that investigations by Pakistani agencies should go beyond "the Asian region" to ascertain any possible "international involvement."

The sources said he was alluding to the need to probe all aspects to ascertain any possible Tiger guerilla involvement. In a statement issued yesterday, the Colombo Foreign Office said US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher who is in charge of South Asian and Central Asian Affairs, had also expressed concern over "wider implications" for Sri Lanka's security. This came during a telephone conversation with Minister Bogollagama who had explained that this was the first time Sri Lankan nationals had been targeted abroad.

Mr. Boucher had offered US assistance in the investigations. Mr. Bogollagama told The Sunday Times yesterday that in a separate telephone conversation, Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, had offered forensic expertise for the probe. Two Australians were among those on board the bus that took the Sri Lankan players from Pearl Intercontinental Hotel to the Gadaffi Stadium in Lahore. He said Sri Lanka was keen "to ascertain the international dimensions, if any, in the Lahore attack."

Minister and Defence spokesman Kehiliya Rambukwella told The Sunday Times the Government was ready to send a team of investigators at the shortest notice should Islamabad make a request.

“We are definitely prepared to coordinate with the Pakistani authorities in whatever way possible, since Sri Lanka is one of the effected parties to the incident,” Mr. Rambukwella said. Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit told The Sunday Times yesterday that his government did not find it desirable to give any details to the media of arrests, detentions and how the investigations were proceeding in the Lahore attack.

He said there were some arrests made, and they were "hopeful" that the authorities would "move forward" in their investigations. Mr. Basit said he was unable to tell whether Pakistan detectives would be travelling to Sri Lanka shortly.

Reports from Lahore indicated that the Pakistani authorities were yet to make any breakthrough in their investigations. None of the estimated 14 gunmen who took part in the attack was killed, injured or captured. Lahore Police had made some sweeping overnight raids on nearby lodges and hostels in a city crawl and taken nearly sixty young men into custody.

These reports indicated that the two prime suspects in the attack were the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and the Lashka-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), both jihadi groups. Meanwhile an official website of the Sri Lankan government said that the emerging suspicions about Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), the group blamed by India for the attacks on Mumbai, being responsible for this attack, have led to serious considerations on the possibility of an LTTE link, in this attack, in view of the known connections the LTTE has with this group.

The website said these links dated back to 1992, when Kittu, a prominent strategist of the LTTE at the time, was known to have been negotiating arms purchases for the LTTE in Peshawar.
“Subsequent to this, in 1993, Indian intelligence is credited with identifying the vessel in which Kittu was transporting the weapons for the LTTE, and had the ship destroyed at sea, killing Kittu, too.

“There had also been much speculation that the LTTE may have had external help in firing missiles that brought down two Avro aircraft near Palali airbase in April 1995, killing a large number of civilians. It was believed at the time that the LTTE may have used mercenaries with links to Peshawar or Afghanistan, to fire the missiles which hit the aircraft, links which have remained till today,” the report said.

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