- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

NEW DELHI Five suicide attackers in a car with government markings stormed Parliament with a barrage of grenades, explosives and rifle fire yesterday, killing seven persons in a bloody assault at the heart of the world's largest democracy.
Islamic militants, such as those fighting a 12-year insurgency in the disputed Himalayan province of Kashmir, were widely suspected of being behind the attack, which set off a 35-minute gunbattle outside the sprawling, red sandstone Parliament building.
Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani declared "terrorists and their sponsors" were to blame, and another official blamed mercenaries from Pakistan. The Pakistani government condemned the attack, but there was concern it could lead to an escalation of enmity between the South Asian nuclear rivals, who have fought two wars over Kashmir.
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who reportedly was just leaving the Parliament building when the attack took place, delivered a live television address two hours after the gunbattle ended to reassure the nation.
"This was an attack not just on Parliament house, but a warning to the entire country. We accept the challenge. We will foil every attempt of the terrorists," Mr. Vajpayee said.
President Bush telephoned Mr. Vajpayee with condolences and offered FBI and State Department counterterrorism teams to help investigate.
At least 12 persons were killed a gunman who blew himself up; four colleagues who were fatally shot by security forces; four police officers; one unarmed Parliament guard; a paramilitary constable and a gardener. It was not clear whether a sixth attacker was involved, officials said.
Eighteen persons were injured, six critically.
No lawmakers or Cabinet officials were among the casualties. Parliament had just adjourned at the time of the attack, and most officials were still inside the building.
The midday attack began when the gunmen drove through one of the Parliament complex's gates in a white, Indian-made Ambassador car, of the kind used by government officials, state-run Doordarshan television reported. The car had official stickers from the Home Ministry affixed to its windshield, the report said.
One militant jumped out of the car and blew himself up, while the others opened fire on police and security guards. The attackers drove 50 yards inside the premises, then started getting out of the vehicle one by one.
Police later found explosives in the car and in the turquoise knapsacks that the young, clean-shaven, black-haired gunmen had slung over their backs as they raced up the steps of the Parliament building, firing their assaults rifles with one hand.
The attackers never got past any of the 12 entry doors into the building, but managed to hit it with bullets.
Inside the building, there was panic.
"Someone started shouting, 'terrorists, terrorists,'" said lawmaker Khara Bela Swain. "I couldn't understand anything. There was chaos."
"After three or four minutes of firing, they started throwing grenades," and at least four exploded, Mr. Swain said. "I started to run to save my life."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Government officials refused to name any group as a suspect, but they focused their attention on Islamic militants.
The attack came a week after Mr. Advani warned that a Bombay man was arrested Oct. 2 and told police that he had trained under Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorism network, blamed for the September 11 attacks on the United States. The suspect said al Qaeda had planned to attack Britain, Australia and the Indian Parliament, according to the home minister.
Referring to yesterday's attackers, India's junior trade minister, Rajeev Pratap Rudy, said "it seems they were foreign mercenaries. They're from Pakistan."
Syed Salahuddin, head of the Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, the largest Pakistan-based militant group fighting in Kashmir, denied any involvement.
"No jihadi group is involved in this attack and it is the work of Indian authorities who want to divert the attention of the international community from the issue of Kashmir," he said from the Pakistani capital.
Mr. Vajpayee has often accused Pakistan and its military leader, President Pervez Musharraf, of sponsoring terrorist attacks in India.
Gen. Musharraf said he was "shocked" to learn of the attack and sent a message of sympathy to the Indian prime minister.
"My government strongly condemns the attack," Gen. Musharraf said in his message. He added that he was "saddened by the loss of life and the injuries suffered by Indian security personnel."
Yesterday's attack was similar to one on the state assembly in Srinagar, summer capital of the northern Jammu and Kashmir state, where the Islamic separatists are fighting for independence or merger with Pakistan. Forty persons were killed in the Oct. 1 attack.
Mr. Advani said Parliament would meet as scheduled today in the bullet-riddled building.

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