- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) - Sri Lanka’s cricket community on Monday honored a Pakistani bus driver as a hero for risking his life to get Sri Lankan cricketers to safety as bullets pierced their vehicle in last month’s deadly terror attack in eastern Pakistan.

“By God’s help I did not feel scared at all and never thought of jumping out of the bus to save myself,” Mohammad Khalil said through an interpreter at an elaborate ceremony at Sri Lanka Cricket headquarters.

Six police officers and a driver were killed and seven members of the Sri Lanka contingent wounded in Lahore on March 3 when more than a dozen heavily armed gunmen ambushed the team convoy en route to a match against Pakistan.

“We are here to thank one unarmed man for his courage, selflessness and quick thinking that enabled many of us to see another day,” said Kumar Sangakkara, who sustained minor injuries in the attack. “We will always have a special place for you in our hearts.”

Khalil was credited with putting his foot down hard on the accelerator to power the vehicle away from the coordinated attacks at an exposed intersection.

Moments later the bus, riddled with 25 bullet holes, careered into the nearby stadium and medics rushed to treat the injured players and staff.

Khalil thanked the Sri Lankan cricketers who went to Pakistan when most of the top teams refused to tour the country because of security concerns.

“We are proud that we are even ready to sacrifice our lives to save our friends,” he said.

Khalil was presented with cash totaling about $20,000 and a leading newspaper group has sponsored a holiday for his family in Sri Lanka. Khalil also gave the cricketers boxes of sweets and henna from Pakistan.

Batsman Thilan Samaraweera, the most seriously wounded of the Sri Lankan players, was released from hospital two weeks after the attack. Former captain Mahela Jayawardene said all the wounded players except for Samaraweera have resumed playing domestic cricket.

The attack was among the highest-profile terrorist strikes on a sports team since the 1972 Munich Olympics, when Palestinian militants killed 11 Israeli athletes.

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