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4 Shot Dead Outside U.S. Center in India

January 22, 2002|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Gunmen riding as passengers on two motorcycles attacked the American Center in Calcutta about 6:30 a.m. today as the building's security guards were changing shifts, police and U.S. Embassy officials said.

The attackers pulled assault rifles from under their shawls and opened fire on police guards, killing four and injuring at least 21 other people, one seriously, police said.

No one was in the building when the shootout occurred, police said.

Gordon Duguid, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in New Delhi, the capital, said no U.S. staff members were hurt.

One official said the wounded included 11 state police officers, nine pedestrians and one private security guard.

"This was definitely an attack on the American . . . Center by terrorists of some group or another," said Sujay Chakraborty, the police commissioner in the eastern Indian city. The attackers escaped.

A senior Home Ministry official told Associated Press that a man phoned police in New Delhi and said the attack had been carried out by Harkat-ul Jehad-e-Islami, a Pakistan-based militant group. The claim could not be immediately verified.

Chakraborty and Suresh Roy, joint commissioner of police in New Delhi, said police had intelligence reports warning of possible attacks. But such threats are common in India, and none of the recent ones were specific, the officials said.

The American Center is a U.S. government building housing a library, a public affairs office and a press section, as well as a wing where cultural programs are held.

Police have descriptions of the motorcycles used in the attack and are following other leads that should bring arrests soon, Chakraborty said.

Security was put on high alert at the U.S. Embassy in the capital and at U.S. consulates and other facilities around the country after the assault, Roy said on Indian television this morning.

Hundreds of thousands of Indian and Pakistani troops are facing each other in a military standoff sparked by a Dec. 13 terrorist attack on India's Parliament, which New Delhi blames on two Pakistan-based groups.

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