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January 22, 2002
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Updated 0941 IST
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Four killed, 17 injured in attack on USIS office

Heavily armed motorcycle borne terrorists attacked the United States Information Centre in the heart of Kolkata early on Tuesday morning killing four security personnel and injuring 17 others, including some passers-by.

In the first major strike of its kind in the metropolis, four unidentified gunmen came on two motorcycles and fired indiscriminately from high-calibre automatic weapons on the security personnel at the gate of the heavily guarded four-storey building, also known as American Centre, at 6:35 am and fled the scene, Deputy Commissioner of Police Banibrata Bose said.

No one was in the building, barely 500 metres away from the US Consulate, at the time of the shootout.

The attack, which occurred when the policemen on the night shift were changing duties, lasted for about four minutes, state Home Secretary Amit Kiran Deb said.

"It appears to be a terrorist attack," Commissioner of Police Sujoy Chakroborty, who visited the spot immediately after the incident, said.

While three security personnel died on the spot, another succumbed to injuries in the hospital, he said.

In Delhi, US Embassy said that no American citizen was injured in the attack. The wounded, who included some policemen and at least one private security guard, have been admitted to various hospitals -- some of them in critical condition, Bose said.

Spent cartridges of AK-47 rifle were found at the site. Police has cordoned off the area and launched a manhunt for the assailants.

The attack came as US Ambassador at Large Francis X Taylor, President George W Bush's coordinator for counter-terrorism, was in Delhi to discuss ways to fight terrorism.

FBI Director Robert Muller was also in the Capital to hold talks with the Indian officials.

Soon after the attack a high alert has been sounded in the state, Deb said.

Security around the US Embassy in New Delhi and other American institutions, which was beefed up following September 11 terror strikes in the United States, has been further tightened.

Deb said the entire operation lasted for about four minutes during change over of duty of the policemen.

The number plates of the motorcycles used by the terrorists was 'possibly noted', he said while refusing to divulge further details.

The home secretary said a red alert has been sounded in the state and security has been beefed up at other important installations in the city, including the American Consulate, barely 500 yards from the American Center.

The state secretariat was thoroughly checked as a precautionary measure.

The attack, which was the first of its kind in the metropolis, threw the office hour traffic out of gear as police cordoned off the entire area around American Center.

The attack took place just four days before Republic Day in the backdrop of earlier apprehension that Pakistan-backed militants were planning attacks to disrupt the celebrations.

The plan of a terrorist strike to disrupt Republic Day celebrations had been revealed following the busting of ISI backed spy ring with the arrest of a Pakistani national Mohammad Dilshad in Siliguri on January 4.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has convened a high level meeting to review the situation.

Chief Secretary Sourin Roy, Home secretary A K Deb, Director General of Police D C Bajpai and the Police Commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty would attend the meeting.

The security personnel, who were killed were identified as Anup Mondal, Suresh Hembram, Ujjal Burman and Piyush Sarkar.

One of the injured security personnel, who was admitted to the hospital, said that the attackers came from the north of the city and suddenly opened fire.

"It was so sudden that we could not react", he said.

An official said that the number of casualties could have been higher, but for a police van, which stood in the line of firing.

Following recent apprehension of a possible attack on American installations in the city, security had been beefed up with at least 32 policemen on round the clock duty in two shifts.

A security guard of a nearby office, who was present on the spot when the attack took place, said he saw assailants speeding in from the northern side of the city on motorcycles.

Giving details of the assailants, he said they had chadar (shawl) wrapped around them but was not sure whether they wore masks.

He said the pillion rider took cover behind the police van and sprayed bullets on the security personnel at the gate of the American Center.

The assailants sped away even before the police could react, he said. The footpath in front of the Center was splattered with blood as a large posse of policemen and RAF commandos cordoned off the area covering almost half of the Jawaharlal Nehru Road.

Meanwhile, security agencies believe that Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islami was behind the attack.

Official sources said that HuJI has been operating in the areas of Indo-Bangla border for quite some time.

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