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U.S. center attack aimed at Indians

©Washington Post
January 23, 2002

NEW DELHI -- The gunmen who opened fire on a U.S. government cultural center in Calcutta on Tuesday, killing five police officers and injuring 20 people, appeared to be targeting the local police instead of the United States, Indian and U.S. officials said.

Indian authorities said two groups quickly claimed responsibility for the assault: a band of Indian criminals and an Islamic militant organization with connections to Pakistan and Bangladesh. Although both groups are under investigation, Indian government officials said they are focusing on the criminals, known as the Raza Commando Force, whose leader was killed by police in December.

A senior Indian government official said it appeared that local, revenge motives were behind the shooting, the Washington Post repored. A U.S. official said American diplomats and security officers investigating the incident are not convinced the incident was an attack on the United States, the Post added.

FBI director Robert Mueller, who was visiting New Delhi on Tuesday, called the attack a "horrible tragedy and an assault on police officers," but he said, "Categorizing it beyond that ... would be inappropriate at this time."

The attack on the American Center in Calcutta, a teeming city in eastern India, began at 6:30 a.m., when four assailants on two motorcycles sped up to the building, which is on one of the city's main thoroughfares. The gunmen, who had concealed AK-47 assault rifles under their shawls, sprayed a police post in front of the building with dozens of rounds. They drove away before any of the officers, who were armed only with bolt-action rifles, could return a single shot, police said.

Three officers were killed at the scene, and two died at a hospital. Eighteen officers, one pedestrian and one private security guard working for the U.S. government were wounded.

No Americans were injured, and no personnel were in the building.

The center, one of two U.S. government buildings in the city, houses a library, the public affairs office for the consulate and a wing for cultural programs. Over the years, it has been the site of frequent but peaceful anti-American protests by labor unions and Communists who dominate the state government.

Indian authorities said a police superintendent in Calcutta received a phone call Tuesday claiming responsibility for the shooting from a man named Farhan Malik, who is a leader of the Raza Commando Force. The group, which had been regarded as a band of criminals, rocketed to notoriety after kidnapping a prominent Calcutta businessman last summer. The man was released after a ransom of almost $800,000 was paid.

Indian officials contend the group's leaders, including Malik, are based in Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates. Indian intelligence officials say the group has links to Pakistan's intelligence service and to militant groups based in Pakistan that are fighting to end Indian rule in Kashmir, a Himalayan territory divided between India and Pakistan.

A Pakistani government official said allegations of connections between the group and Pakistan's intelligence service were baseless.

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