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India: Pakistani Intelligence May Be Linked to Attack in Calcutta - 2002-01-22

Gunmen attacked the American Center Library in India's eastern city, Calcutta, Tuesday killing five guards and wounding at least 16 others.

India's Home Minister says the attack may have been carried out by Islamic militants linked to Pakistan's intelligence service, but Pakistani officials strongly denied the charge.

Gunmen on two motorcycles opened fire at a police checkpoint guarding the American Center at dawn Tuesday, shooting guards and pedestrians before speeding away. The American Center is on a busy downtown street in Calcutta. The center houses a popular library, cultural center and the U.S. Consulate's public affairs section.

U.S. diplomatic facilities in India were put on a heightened state of alert following the attack. The American Center and the nearby American Consulate building have been closed temporarily, said Rex Moser, a spokesman at the Calcutta U.S. Consulate.

"Clearly, we have to reassess our security situation as to what we can and cannot do. It is really too early to say what effect this will have, other than the fact that both the American Center and the American Consulate in Calcutta are closed," he said.

Police have said two Islamic militant groups have claimed responsibility for the Calcutta attack. One group, Harkat-ul Jehad-i-Islami, was known several years ago for its close ties to Kashmiri militant separatists but was believed to have been disbanded. The other group, Asif Raza Commandos, is believed to be made up of local Islamic militants in West Bengal and Bangladesh and to have been behind the recent kidnapping of a Calcutta industrialist.

India's Home Minister L.K. Advani says he believes one of the groups, reportedly claiming responsibility for the attack, Harkat-ul Jehad-i-Islami, has ties with Pakistan's Inter-services Intelligence Agency. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Aziz Khan said on Tuesday Islamabad strongly condemned the attack and any charge that Pakistan was involved was "baseless."

Just hours after the attack took place, two senior U.S. officials, Robert Mueller, the Director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Francis Taylor, the U.S. State Department's coordinator for counter-terrorism, met with top Indian officials Tuesday as part of a Joint U.S. India working group on counter-terrorism. Speaking to reporters late in the day FBI Director Mueller said he believes it is too early to say who was behind the attack. "The motivation, the identity of the attackers are being investigated now. In my mind before one concludes definitively who was responsible and what the motivation was, additional investigations must be undertaken," he said. Mr. Mueller said his discussions with Indian officials focused on increasing cooperation between the two countries intelligence services to prevent further terrorist attacks. Since the September 11 terrorist incidents in the United States and the December 13 terrorist attack against India's parliament, both countries have increased military and security cooperation efforts.

Meanwhile in Calcutta, police have launched a massive manhunt for the individuals who carried out Tuesday's attack stepping up security at Railroad and bus stations, airports and other facilities throughout West Bengal. National police authorities say there is an unprecedented security threat this year, in advance of India's Republic Day celebrations on January 26.