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Woolmer probe: Pak players still under scanner

Published: Thursday, March 29, 2007, 0:40 [IST]
 
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Lahore:Angry fans barracked Pakistani cricketers returning from the World Cup Wednesday as police probing the murder of coach Bob Woolmer said the squad had not been ruled out of the inquiry.

Dozens of police surrounded allrounder Shahid Afridi, spinner Danish Kaneria, wicket keeper Kamran Akmal and paceman Mohammad Sami as they were jostled by fans at Karachi International Airport.

"Why have you come back?" one shouted, while another supporter bellowed "Go to hell" at Afridi, an AFP reporter said. Kaneria went back inside the arrivals lounge after several people shouted slogans at him.

Pakistan were dumped out of the World Cup by minnows Ireland on March 18. A day later Woolmer's strangled body was found in his room on the 12th floor of the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston.

"The police did ask us a few questions but these were normal inquiries. We have been asked by the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) not to speak much on the issue," Afridi told waiting media. He added: "Just pray for us."

Akmal refused to talk specifically about Woolmer's murder but said "We all loved Bob. He was a nice coach and a nice person. He was like a father to all of us."

Captain Inzamam-ul-Haq and a dozen other squad members arrived in the eastern city of Lahore later Wednesday but were escorted from the airport via the cargo entrance, avoiding waiting media and fans.

Allrounder Yasir Arafat earlier landed in Islamabad without commenting.

Police said they would lay on heavy security and escort the players home if necessary.

Shields rubbishes Mir's claims: Meanwhile Jamaican Deputy Police Commissioner Mark Shields said comments made by Pakistan spokesman Pervez Mir that detectives had cleared team members of any involvement in Woolmer's death were incorrect.

Speaking before Pakistan's players flew home after a stopover in London on Tuesday, Mir told reporters that Jamaican police had confirmed the Pakistan team were "not suspects" in Woolmer's murder.

Shields dismissed Mir's claims in an interview with the BBC. "That's a pretty inaccurate statement, because nobody at this stage can be ruled out of the inquiry," Shields said.

Woolmer's strangled body was found in his room on the 12th floor of the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston on March 18.

The 58-year-old former England international was later declared to have been murdered in "evil and extraordinary" circumstances, probably by someone he knew, detectives said.

But police have so far failed to reveal any breakthroughs as they hunt for Woolmer's killer or killers, and on Tuesday made an international appeal for witnesses to come forward.

Detectives were trying to track down anyone who stayed or visited at the hotel in the days leading up to Woolmer's death, Shields said.

He urged any cricket fans or tourists who had stayed at or visited the hotel and since returned to their home countries to dial the international hotline (+1-876-927-5000) or contact their local police.

The new appeal comes amid speculation that the investigative trail into Woolmer's killing has gone cold, and the crime may take months or even years to resolve.

The murder has triggered frenzied conspiracy theories about match-fixing, with several former players speculating Woolmer had been killed to prevent him from speaking out.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Naseem Ashraf has, along with Woolmer's friends and family, repeatedly denied any link between the coach's death and a "gambling mafia."

Shields said he was not concerned by the pace of the investigation and said he would not seek to speed up processing of key forensic tests or analysis of security camera footage.

However he acknowledged on Tuesday that a possible match-fixing link "keeps coming to light."

Officers from the International Cricket Council's anti-corruption unit, including chief investigator Jeff Rees, are in Jamaica to assist with the inquiry.

AFP

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