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Lashkar-e-Taiba linked to cricket team attack in Pakistan

Media reports suggest that the Pakistani investigation has centered on the same group accused of carrying out the Mumbai attacks.

By Issam AhmedCorrespondent / March 6, 2009

Pakistani honor guards perform Thursday at the spot of Tuesday's attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan. The attack killed seven people and injured eight.

K.M.Chaudary/AP

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LAHORE – Media reports in Pakistan are suggesting the involvement of banned Islamic group Lashkar-e-Taiba in Tuesday's attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team – the same group suspected of having a hand in last November's terrorist attacks in Mumbai – while Pakistan's interior minister said Friday an official probe did not find evidence of "religious elements" in the attack.

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Dawn, an English-language daily in Pakistan, reports that preliminary investigations suggest that "a group of headstrong Lashkar activists, who went underground and remained in hiding in Rawalpindi after the crackdown on Lashkar and Jamaatud Dawa in December, had acted on their own and carried out the attack."

The paper adds that investigating officials have ruled out the involvement of Indian spy agency RAW or the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). But Friday, Geo Television Network of Pakistan quoted Mr. Malik as saying "we have not found any leads suggesting the involvement of any religious elements." He also said he could not rule out a "foreign hand" in the attack, and refused to divulge any details of the probe.

Dawn reported Thursday that the commissioner of Lahore, Khusro Pervez, admitted to a huge security failure, saying security lapses leading up to the attack were "very vivid and very clear."

Seven Pakistanis, including six policemen, were killed in the attack, which also injured six Sri Lankan cricketers and two match officials. The attack, the first which has targeted a foreign sports team, has left Pakistanis in shock and led to fears that Pakistan may become a failed state. (Read the Monitor's report on what the attack means for Pakistan here.)

Critics of the government have blamed political infighting between the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of President Asif Ali Zardari and the Sharif brothers' Pakistan Muslim League - N (PML-N) for allowing the government to take its eye off the ball despite receiving intelligence on the possibility of an attack. The Monitor reported Wednesday that if the attack was carried out by a home-grown group, it could backfire on the militants by reducing the ambivalence about vilifying such groups.

Tributes continued to flow in at a makeshift memorial built to the slain police officers at Liberty Roundabout in Lahore on Friday. Flowers, candles, and messages of peace were laid out by Lahoris who stood in silent contemplation. "We are in pain, no more bloodshed," read one poster. Fatima, a housewife who came to offer prayers with her daughter, says, "This is a matter of shame for our country. The Sri Lankans were our guests. In Pakistan that is a sacred bond, and our police laid down their lives for them."

Farhan Baig, a police officer who lost his best friend, Tanvir Iqbal, in the attacks, was in no mood to issue tickets to the mourners who parked their cars and motorbikes illegally at the roundabout. "We are proud these boys died doing their duty, we hold our heads high," he says. "How can we stop people from offering prayers?"

Sketches of four of the 12 suspects were released by police on Thursday, though no suspects have yet been arrested. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Friday said Pakistan is now facing a "mortal threat," adding the country's declining economic situation was also of grave concern. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made similiar comments a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Thursday.

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