The suspected mastermind of last week’s assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team escaped a police raid on his home in northern Punjab today.
Police believe that Mohammed Aqeel, an activist of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a militant group linked to al-Qaeda, organised the terrorist attack in which eight people were killed and seven people were injured. Up to 14 gunmen ambushed the coaches carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team near Gaddafi stadium in Lahore last Tuesday.
Pakistani security sources said that Mr Aqeel had fled his home in Khauta district before the raid early this morning although they managed to arrest one of his associates, who was identified only as Talat. They fear that most of the gunmen involved in the attack have fled to the lawless tribal regions in Pakistan’s North West Frontier.
Police have released sketches of four of the gunmen and detained more than two dozen suspects in raids across Punjab. Most of the detainees belonged to LeJ, an extremist Sunni sectarian group, and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
LeJ and JeM, whose membership overlaps, have been involved in most of the terrorist attacks carried out in Pakistan since it joined the US-led War on Terror. They have expanded their influence in Punjab’s south, drawing recruits from among the rural poor. Most of the gunmen involved in last November’s terrorist attacks on Mumbai, in India, also came from the same region.
There have been suggestions from within Pakistan that India may have been involved in attack but the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister today rejected such speculation.