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2 Accused of Attack on US Center in Calcutta - 2002-01-28

India is accusing two men, who it says were Pakistani nationals, of carrying out an attack outside the American cultural center in Calcutta last week. Both men were shot dead by Indian police. The accusations come as tensions remain high between India and Pakistan.

Indian Home Secretary Kamal Pande says the two men were shot in the eastern state, Jharkhand, in a gunbattle that followed an early-morning police raid on a militant hideout.

Mr. Pande says the two men were seriously injured and died later in the hospital. He says one of them confessed to his involvement in the attack outside the American center in Calcutta before he died.

Last Tuesday unidentified gunmen opened fire on police guards outside the American center, killing four policemen and injuring several others.

Mr. Pande says both suspects were Pakistani nationals. "One of them was Zahid, who was a Pakistani, who admitted having been responsible for that incident," he said. "An AK-47 was also recovered from the spot. The other person was Salim, who was seriously injured. The confession made by Zahid clearly points to the fact that they were Pakistanis and they had been charged with doing this incident."

Mr. Pandey says investigations show there is "hardly any doubt" about the role of Pakistani nationals and Pakistani-based terrorist groups in the attack on the American center.

Senior Indian officials earlier said a Dubai-based Indian national with alleged links to Pakistan's intelligence agency had claimed responsibility for the attack. Pakistan has strongly denied any link to the attack.

The latest accusations come at a time of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan. Both countries mobilized hundreds of thousands of troops on their borders after New Delhi accused two Pakistan-based Islamic militant groups of organizing an attack on its parliament in December.

Pakistan has pledged to crack down on Islamic militants operating from its territory But India has refused to pull back its troops, saying it is waiting to see evidence of an end to what it calls Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. It also wants Islamabad to hand over 20 men wanted for alleged criminal and terrorist acts in India.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said Sunday India wanted friendship with all countries, but that this will not be possible as long as it was a target of terrorism. The comment came after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Islamabad was ready to enter into a dialogue with India to end tensions.