Tue, Mar 16, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Bomb raises security concerns ahead of tie

HOWZAT The historic cricket match between India and Pakistan was always going to be a high-risk event, but a the discovery of a chemical bomb has upped the ante


The discovery of a bomb outside the US Consulate in Karachi prompted police to step up security arrangements for today's Pakistan-India cricket match in Rawalpindi.

The stadium lies about 10km from the spot where Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf survived two assassination attempts within 10 days in December blamed on Islamic extremists.

Police yesterday started monitoring accredited staff entering the ground and began cordoning off the roads leading to the venue -- some 30 hours before today's day-night game is due to start.

"We'll be searching each and every spectator. They have to cooperate with us," said Inspector Mohammad Hussain, one of 3,400 security staff being deployed for the game.

"The whole country's image is at stake as one ugly incident could easily spoil it," Hussain said. "We're hopeful, and confident, that tomorrow's game will pass off peacefully."

India is on its first full cricket tour of Pakistan in 14 years, seen as a way of building bridges between historic enemies as the two governments make tentative moves toward a rapprochement.

A security blanket was thrown over the first game, which took place peacefully in the southern city of Karachi on Saturday.

But yesterday, a large, chemical-packed bomb was discovered and defused outside the US Consulate there -- adding to security fears that had threatened to scupper the tour.

"Security around the Indian team is much bigger compared to what we provided to the South Africa and New Zealand cricket teams when they visited here last year," said Marvat Ali Shah, Rawalpindi's senior superintendent of police.

"The security is not just for the ground, it's for the entire city," Shah said. "We have adopted different measures to check the troublemakers."

He said around 1,500 policemen would be posted in and around the stadium, but a bigger number had been deputed at various points in the city.

Police have sanitized the entire route on which the two teams would travel to the ground yesterday and would do so again the next afternoon.

It was not clear who was behind the thwarted attack in Karachi, though Islamic extremist groups have repeatedly targeted Westerners and minority Christians since Pakistan's government threw its support behind the US-led war on terrorism.

The bomb plot was foiled two days ahead of a scheduled visit to Pakistan by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Shah said the security officials would be taking no chances in Rawalpindi, and commandos of the Elite Squad that protects dignitaries would shadow the Indian team throughout their stay.

Close-circuit surveillance cameras in and around the stadium were put into operation as the Indian team arrived for its net session.

A three-stage screening of spectators will start with the vehicle search mirrors at entry points of parking lots.

The spectators will then be scrutinized as they cross walkthrough security gates and then by metal detectors.

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