Gunmen storm India's parliament, leaving 13 dead in shootout

Thursday, December 13, 2001

Associated Press WriterNEW DELHI, India (AP) -- Half a dozen armed men stormed India's Parliament on Thursday, leaving at least 13 dead and 17 wounded during the more than half-hour shootout, authorities said.

Police Chief Ajai Raj Sharma said six officers and an army commando died. Pramod Mahajan, India's parliamentary affairs minister, told CNBC India that "all six terrorists" were killed in what is being called the worst breach of government security since the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. Officials did not identify the gunmen.

Parliament had adjourned, but most lawmakers and several Cabinet ministers were still inside.

"Someone start shouting, 'terrorists, terrorists,"' said lawmaker Khara Bela Swain. "I couldn't understand anything. There was chaos."

Some of the gunmen were in civilian dress. "After three or four minutes of firing they started throwing grenades," and at least four exploded, Swain said. "I started to run to save my life," he said.

Hospital officials said 17 people were being treated for injuries, including six in critical condition. Home Minister Lal K. Advani said all lawmakers were safe and that there had been no damage to the Parliament building.

Mahajan said the attackers were armed with guns and grenades and sneaked toward the sprawling, red sandstone complex from three gates just before noon.

Lawmaker R.K. Anand said he heard a loud explosion from near the outer gate of Parliament, "then firing took place near the main gate."

Bodies were laying on the lawns and sidewalks near the gate as ambulances rushed to the scene. A television cameraman was also shot, and Star News said police were firing indiscriminately, including at journalists.

The office of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said that he was safe. The Press Trust of India news agency reported that Vajpayee had just been leaving the complex at the time.

Police and paramilitary commandos sealed off the complex and halted traffic on major roads in central New Delhi, as gunfire continued for more than a half-hour after the first shots were heard. Hundreds of rounds were fired as police hid behind cars, trees and the corners of the building. The dramatic standoff was broadcast live on most television stations.

Once it ended, the building was sealed. Bomb squads using police dogs found live grenades and were defusing them, Sharma said.

"Today's attack is the most serious breach of top security in Delhi since Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984," said political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan. Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards in revenge for sending her troops into the Sikhs' most sacred shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Advani said the attack on the country's highest legislative body would spur the Indian people to fight off terrorism.

"Our feelings of nationalism and patriotism have been fired. This attack would cost our attackers heavily," he said.

He did not identify the attackers but said it was similar to an attack on the state assembly in Srinagar, summer capital of the northern Jammu-Kashmir state, where Islamic militants for 12 years have been fighting for independence or a merger with Pakistan. Forty were killed in the Oct. 1 attack by a suicide bomber.

"We will not be cowed down by such attacks. It will only firm our resolve to fight terrorism," Advani said.

U.S. embassy spokesman Gordon Duguid in New Delhi said the United States condemns " this outrageous act of terrorism."

Apart from Sikhs and Kashmiris, India has had to grapple with some 30 tribal groups seeking independence or greater autonomy in the seven northeastern states wedged between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

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