Colombo: Sri Lanka's cricketers and officials have honored a Pakistani bus driver who risked his life to get the team to safety amid a deadly terror attack in Lahore, Pakistan last month.
Mohammad Khalil was the guest at an elaborate ceremony Monday at Sri Lanka Cricket headquarters, where he was hailed as a hero.
"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."
Six police officers and a driver were killed and seven members of the Sri Lanka contingent were wounded on March 3 when more than a dozen heavily-armed gunmen ambushed the team convoy en route to a match against Pakistan.
Khalil was credited — as bullets pierced the sides and windshield of the bus — 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.
"By God's help I did not feel scared at all and never thought of jumping out of the bus to save myself," Khalil said through a translator.
He 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 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.
The Sri Lankan team is back in training ahead of the Twenty20 World Cup in England in June and a visit by Pakistan for three tests in July. New Zealand is scheduled to tour Sri Lanka in late August.
Mahela Jayawardene, who was captain when the team was attacked, said all the wounded players except for Samaraweera have started 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.