Mayhem marks the morning
A flash of green, a flurry of shots
Run, they screamed, as bullets whizzed past
Moti couldn�t help shouting
Happy ending to tearful tale of missing son
Wounded cop dumped on hospital floor
Manhunt launched after terror attack at dawn
Buddha admits holes in cop cover
Business as usual for consular corps
After shock, the shadow of shut campus doors

Calcutta, Jan. 22: 

Soft targets without tools to tackle murder merchants

Rounds fired by two of the killers: 54

Shots fired by the 64-odd cops: None

The bullet count summed up the bloody story outside American Center on Tuesday morning. As the AK-47s blazed away, peppering the pavement in front of the Chowringhee Road landmark, the men in khaki and white could do nothing but dive for cover.

Stunned by the suddenness of the attack on a foggy winter morning, the securitymen belonging to various Calcutta Police wings proved �soft targets� for the terror merchants.

Some tried to hide behind the black cop van that pulls up at the spot every morning for the shift change. One of the injured constables even ran into the neighbouring headquarters of a multinational bank for shelter. But no one could return the fire.

Later in the day, the police commissioner blamed the absence of retaliation on the �timing of the attack�. As Sujoy Chakraborty put it: �For around 10 minutes during the shift change, around 6.30 am, those handing over charge first unload their rifles and then hand them over to the next lot, who sit in front of the Center and arm themselves. The attack took place just during the change of guard� It must have been meticulously planned by the terrorists, who knew the exact routine.�

The attack, said the police top-brass, had assumed such deadly proportions because the cops were in no position to retaliate. �While some were busy handing over their rifles, others were in the process of reloading them. So, for all practical purposes, they were unarmed and helpless in the face of such a sudden strike,� said a top cop.

The chief minister chose to blame it on the arms, not the men. The poss� posted in front of American Center � the most sensitive building housing foreigners in town after the US Consulate on nearby Ho Chi Minh Sarani � has around 14 rifles of .303 calibre, three revolvers, 10 lathis and two teargas guns.

�They are posted there mainly to ward off agitators during street demonstrations,� said Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, explaining the deployment of arms � or rather the lack of it � at American Center.

But early on Tuesday, the policemen found themselves in the line of AK-47 fire, at a time when they were least equipped to tackle a terror attack. The .303 rifles can fire a maximum of four rounds every minute, with 15 seconds needed to fire each round, say officials. They don�t stand a chance against an AK-47 or AK-56, each with a magazine that can spew around 27 bullets in less than a minute.

Being outgunned is one thing, but failing to put up even a semblance of fight is quite another, said some senior officials, pointing to the �lack of proper training�.

�The process now in place to train our men ensures that they don�t learn much in the first place,� said an officer in charge of a police station near the American Center on Tuesday.

Others, too, admitted that the stints at the city�s Police Training School or the Barrackpore institute are viewed as �a few days of rest from duty�, rather than a serious exercise, by a sizeable section of the force.

�Nights spent in drunken stupor are often followed by morning hangovers when, at the very least, target-shooting is not possible,� a senior official told Metro. Officers of or above the rank of sub-inspector are the worst culprits, say officials.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
Rana Pratap Singh, 25, a constable of the Second Battalion of the Armed Police, spoke to Metro at the Edward Ward of SSKM Hospital on his return from the operation theatre around 1.30 pm. He had a surgery performed on his left leg

It was around 6.30 am when our van (WGT 2141) came to a halt on Chowringhee. I belong to the Second Battalion of the Armed Police and the van had brought 30 of us to American Center. We were to relieve a similar number of colleagues from the Fifth Battalion, who had spent the night in front of the Center.

I had just got off the van and was walking towards a chair on the pavement when a motorcycle, coming from the north, slowed down. Another one followed it a few seconds later.

I did not pay much attention as motorcyclists often ask for directions from policemen deputed in front of American Center. We don�t have much to do there and almost look forward to these interactions, as they engage us for some time and, even after they leave, give us something to talk about.

I did not exactly hear what they said but, from the drift of the words, thought they were just passersby looking for the right address. Chowringhee is huge enough to confuse even Calcuttans. I saw from the corner of my eye that they were wearing clothes of bottle-green colour. So I thought they must be from the army or the paramilitary and new to the city.

Just as I was about to reach a chair, I heard the first sound of bullets. I turned around automatically and saw two of them � the pillion-riders � spraying bullets. They had my colleagues and myself as targets and, even before I was shot, I could see a few of my colleagues being hit.

I don�t remember exactly how many of us were hit. Many were throwing themselves on the pavement to evade the hail of bullets. Some were saved as they were in the process of getting off the van and others, I think, managed to clamber back into it.

The assailants did not target anyone in particular, but were moving their rifles in something of an arc.

It was probably a few seconds after the firing started that I was shot. I don�t quite remember what I was doing. Probably, I was trying to run for cover, keeping the van that had brought us between the bullets and myself.

When I was hit, it felt like a nightmare. It was like I was in a sea of agony. The motorcycles started moving away. The riders had kept the engines running and the bikes were almost moving, albeit very slowly.

Those of my colleagues who were unhurt stopped every passing vehicle and pleaded with the occupants to rush us to hospital. Through the pain, I realised I had lost some of my colleagues forever.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
Rajbir Singh, staffer of a security agency, recounted his tale of horror inside Ispat Bhavan around noon

I work as a security guard-cum-cleaner for Security and Investigation Agency and am currently deployed at Ispat Bhavan. I usually reach office by 6 am but on Tuesday, I was slightly delayed.

Consequently, I was in a hurry and walked briskly as I crossed the American Center. Despite my obvious hurry, I could see the usual flurry of activity during the shift changeover � relievers getting off a large van, walking towards the chairs, that were just vacated by the men who had been guarding the entrance to the building the previous night.

It has been a common sight for me for the past few months. There were even one or two tea-vendors, who do brisk business during this time.

Now, when I recapitulate, I think I saw them hanging around the area too, but I am not sure.

Moments after I crossed the building and the van, I heard what I initially thought was the sound of crackers; the kind that burst in a series during Diwali.

Being a regular on Chowringhee Road, I am used to seeing several protests near the American Center. There have been instances in the past when effigies were burnt and red flags waved at the Center, but the sound of crackers at dawn took me by surprise.

Second, Chowringhee at this time of the morning is usually quiet, with an occasional vehicle driving by, or morning joggers stopping for tea.

I looked back and saw two motorcycles passing by the Center, almost in a slow motion, and the policemen, who a few moments ago were casually getting down from the van, throwing themselves to the ground.

There were several cries of �Bhago, goli chal rahi hai (Run, they are firing)� and many of the policemen, I could make out, had been shot. But it was not possible to see who died and how many were injured.

Unfortunately, I did not even see how many were riding the motorcycles. The noise of bullets did indicate that there were at least two people firing, but I was too scared to look.

I am fortunate to be alive. As soon as I realised that it was bullets and not patakas, I covered my head and crouched on the pavement.

At that juncture, nothing was making sense. While I thought I should run into Ispat Bhavan, the sight of men lying on the ground told me I should stay where I was.

When the firing stopped, everybody was too stunned to react. Much later, I noticed a few policemen trying to get up. Even then, I was reluctant to go up and find out what was happening.

When the sound of the motorcycles faded away, I took a glance at the shoot-out arena and ran into Ispat Bhavan. The sight of blood was too scary.

I don�t think I will be able to forget what I saw and heard on Tuesday, in the worst of times to come. My walk to Ispat Bhavan on Wednesday will never match the ones in the past.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
Bablu Chakraborty, who hangs around the Park Street-Middleton Street area, recounted the killings in front of American Center. He was interviewed inside the National Insurance Building around 12.30 pm, about six hours after the shoot-out. He related the same story to Special Branch of Calcutta Police interrogators after he admitted his friend, Motilal Yadav, injured in the shoulder and neck, to SSKM Hospital

I, along with my friend, Motilal Yadav, had just turned right from Middleton Street on to Chowringhee and reached the building where the Citibank office is located. Every day, Moti and I walk up to the Citibank building, where we cross the road to reach the Maidan. We relieve ourselves in the open.

When we reached the Citibank building and were about to cross the road, we saw a motorcycle carrying two men. We could not see what the pillion-rider was carrying, as he was draped in a shawl. They slowed down in front of American Center, where some policemen were getting off a large van, and some others were leaving their post on the pavement to board the same vehicle.

Suddenly, we heard one of the motorcyclists shout: �Jo saamne ayega, ura do usey (Shoot anyone who comes within range).� It was then that we realised what was going to happen. But we froze, waiting for the inevitable to happen.

By the time the shoot-out had started, it was too late to move. The assailants� first target was one (Reserved Force) policeman in a khaki uniform. I, somehow, restrained myself from shouting but for Moti, apparently, it was too much. He � at 65 � is more than double my age, and could not help screaming: �Aare maar diya, maar diya (Watch out, they�re going to kill)�, immediately attracting the assailants� attention.

One of them trained his rifle on us and Moti was shot twice. One bullet struck his left shoulder and another grazed his neck before hitting the Citibank building behind us.

I threw myself on the pavement beside Moti and did not raise my head till I could hear no more gunshots. A sentry posted in front of the Citibank building fled into the office as soon as he saw Moti being shot.

When I raised my head, I saw the motorcycle turn left towards Middleton Street and speed off towards Little Russell Street. The youths had short hair and were of medium build; they looked like the average Calcuttan.

I picked up Moti and took him to Shakespeare Sarani police station in a taxi; I knew their pass was absolutely necessary if he had to be treated in any hospital. After that, I took him to the SSKM Hospital.

By that time, there was a huge crowd outside the hospital.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
Tears rolling down his cheeks, he was frantically looking for his 22-year-old son who is employed with the security section at the American Center.

Joseph George Galio, a dark man of medium height, was relating his tale of woe to the curious crowd that had gathered in front of the American Center a couple of hours after the strike early on Tuesday. Going by his accent, Galio, a man in his early fifties, seemed to be an Anglo-Indian.

Three months ago, his son, Obrique Clin Galio, had landed a job with a private security agency. He was posted at the American Center a month later.

�Obrique was off duty on Monday. The authorities telephoned him last night to say that he was put on morning duty at the American Center,�� Galio said.

�I received a telephone call in the morning from a friend who told us about the attack at the Center,�� he said.

�I have come here with a lot of difficulty to check if anything has happened to him,�� he added.

After much persuasion, the officer in-charge of Hastings police station, Jayanta Das, summoned the man in charge of the private security agency, where the Obrique Galio is employed.

�He told me that my son is safe and fine. He is injured and the authorities have kept him inside the Center for security reasons,�� Galio said.

According to the management of the private security agency, the morning shift at the American Center starts at 6 am. �The duty continues till 2 pm,�� an officer of the agency said.

Obrique was standing �close to the gate�� when the four terrorists on motorbikes opened fire from their automatic weapons.

�One of the bullets grazed his head. He rushed and took shelter in the guard room of the Center,�� the official said.

Joseph was later allowed to go inside the Center to speak to his son after waiting for more than an hour-and-a-half outside the building.

�I will speak to him and then call up home to tell the rest of my family that he is safe,�� he said, before crossing the security barricade to walk into the Center.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
A few minutes after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee left SSKM Hospital, Rana Pratap Singh, a Calcutta Police constable injured in the attack on the American Center, was still lying on the ground.

Singh had just been brought into the Edward Ward � along with five of his injured colleagues and a wounded pedestrian � after being operated upon. He was too dazed to protest against the injustice. His colleagues, however, gave vent to their anger at the shabby treatment meted out to him.

�This should not be the way the state cares for a law-enforcer who has risked his life for his country,� one of Singh�s colleagues said , standing by him. �And definitely not in what is said to be the state�s finest government-run hospital,� another added.

Singh, lying on an apology of a �bedding� on the ground, tried his best to make himself comfortable. Even the saline-drip was not working as he lent a helping hand to the nurse, trying to pick up the stand and place it in a position that would facilitate the saline flow. After a futile struggle, Singh gave up and the nurse on duty headed off to search for a more effective saline-drip.

This pushed Singh�s colleagues over the edge.

�He is lying here in such a state only because we are not given proper arms to fight,� grumbled one of them, a member of the second battalion of the Armed Police. �First, we are given lathis to fight Kalashnikovs. Then, after fighting an unequal battle, we don�t even get a proper bed or stretcher or a saline drip. Is this what we joined the force for?� he demanded.

The scene at the neighbouring Curzon Ward � on the same floor � was no different. The injured constables� colleagues complained that the chief minister had not been shown the �real� situation in the wards.

�The hospital authorities deliberately shielded the chief minister from the embarrassing scenes in the wards,� constables of the Armed Police alleged. The conversation was cut short abruptly by Group-D attendants of the hospital telling them not to talk to �outsiders�.

The chief minister visited the hospital around 1.20 pm, spending a few minutes with doctors and relatives of some of the dead and injured policemen.

Refusing to comment on the attack and its aftermath, Bhattacharjee said: �I will say what I have to say at Writers� Buildings, not here.�

The chief minister drove out a little after 1.30 pm, leaving in his wake a host of disgruntled policemen and disheartened relatives.

Family members and friends of Motilal Yadav, a passerby who was injured in the Chowringhee Road firing, complained that the policemen were far better off than �ordinary people�.

There was a clear discrimination against Yadav as he was the only person not in uniform among the injured brought to SSKM Hospital, they alleged.

Admitted in Edward Ward along with five policemen, Yadav was the last to be operated upon. Precious time had been lost in their trying to get a declaration from the Shakespeare Sarani police station, without which he would not have been treated. �We are lucky that he is still alive, considering the shabby treatment from the authorities and the hospital officials,� they claimed.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
Security agencies launched a massive manhunt in several areas of central, south and east Calcutta and seized a large number of incriminating documents.

Police, CID and IB officers simultaneously combed the dingy Mafizul Islam Lane, Darga Road, Ripon Lane, G.G. Khan Road, and Topsia First and Second Lanes, where they came upon the papers. According to sources close to officers who took part in the raid, 20 suspects in their twenties and thirties have been detained for interrogation.

Deputy commissioner of police, eastern suburban division, Sanjoy Mukherjee, said: �Enquiries are on in a few areas but we cannot share the details for security reasons.��

According to police, the documents contained details about the suspects� contacts in Mumbai, Delhi and Lucknow. �We have got some contacts and telephone numbers in Karachi, Lahore, Dubai and Sharjah,�� the police officer said.

Sources said sleuths have found the bank accounts of �social service organisations� (which camouflage their dark activities) with substantial bank balance.

According to information available with the IB and CID, which investigated Khadim�s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman�s kidnap case, Asif Reza Khan, alias Rajan, and his brother, Amir Reza Khan, were militants and members of Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami.

The city and its adjacent areas went on high alert after the killings. State director-general D.C. Vajpai said policemen were told to frisk passengers at Howrah and Sealdah stations and also at Calcutta airport.

�We have sealed the entry and exit points. All outgoing and incoming vehicles are being checked,� Vajpai added.

Police beefed up the security measures in front of American Center. Policemen with Sten guns have been deployed. A sandbag bunker has been put up in front of the main gate.

�We are also beefing up the security arrangements in front of other foreign embassies. But we cannot ensure their safety. I can tell this much � we will try our best to resist such attack within our limited capacity,� said commissioner of police Sujoy Chakraborty.

Police launched a manhunt immediately after the incident. Special branch and detective department officers raided different areas in the city and picked up 50 people. �We are interrogating them. We are trying to find out where they were and what they were doing during the incident,� said Chakraborty.

Police made drastic changes in the security arrangement for the Republic Day parade. �Usually, a few armed policemen are deployed in front of the guests� gallery. This time, we have decided to strengthen the security ring as much as possible,� Chakraborty said.

At a high-level meeting with the chief minister, the detective department has been asked to investigate the shoot-out. Six teams have been formed under the supervision of DC-I, DD Soumen Mitra. �Altogether 50 officers have been involved in this case. We have not got any lead so far. The motorbike still remains untraced,� said Mitra.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
The way motorcycle-borne assailants, wielding AK-47 rifles, mowed down armed policemen outside American Center on Tuesday morning, points to the sheer inadequacy of security arrangements, even after the September 11 strikes in the US.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has admitted that security arrangements at the consulates are �inadequate� and the poss� of policemen deployed at the Center is equipped only to deal with slogan-chanting demonstrators, an almost everyday scene in Calcutta.

�The present security arrangements in and around the consulates and vital installations are far from adequate. We have to arm ourselves with sophisticated equipment to tackle such terrorist activities. We are reviewing the whole process,� Bhattacharjee said.

Echoing Bhattacharjee, city police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty explained that the security personnel at the Center � a team of policemen � were entrusted with the task of controlling crowds.

�Our men at the Center were armed with rifles, lathis, shields and tear-gas. One can�t expect to take on AK-47 assault rifles thus armed. The firepower used was too modern. For us, the Sten gun is the most sophisticated firearm, which is no match for theAK-47 rifles used by the terrorists,� said Chakraborty.

The police commissioner even failed to guarantee that there would not be a repetition of Tuesday�s incident. �We will try our best to prevent such an incident in future within our limited capacity,� Chakraborty added.

At the time of the attack, only four members of a private security company were posted on the Center premises, said a spokesperson of the US consulate.

�None of our 40-odd employees had reached office at that early hour,� he said, adding that this was possibly the first attack on any diplomatic establishment in the country as far as he could recollect.

Consulate sources said there had been some changes in security arrangements at the American Center and the US consulate after September 11.

Director of American Center Rex Moser said the changes had been made �in consultation with the police with whom we work very closely�.

Asked whether he was happy with the security arranged by the city police outside the Center, Moser said: �That is beyond my jurisdiction to comment on.�

Moser pointed out that never in the past 15 months had either American Center or the Consulate been taken by surprise by demonstrators. �A lot of demonstrations take place (near American Center and the Consulate). But, we have never been caught unawares in the past 15 months. The police have always informed us in advance about agitations and demonstrations. Our relationship with them (the police) is very cordial. There was no penetration this morning either,� he added.

The Center has its own state-of-the-art security system inside the compound, complete with a close-circuit television network and metal detectors under the supervision of a private security agency.

But the authorities are tight-lipped about giving out details. �We don�t comment on our own security system as a matter of policy,� said Moser.

A visitor to the USIS library or the Lincoln Room, the Center�s auditorium, has to pass through a strict security cordon. Bags and mobiles are not allowed in and one is thoroughly frisked before being passed through the metal detector.

The US consul-general in Calcutta, Christopher Sandrolini, met the chief minister and senior officials at Writers� Buildings on Tuesday.

He said the meeting was �productive�. Back at the consulate, Sandrolini held another round of talks with Rex Moser and other senior consulate officials.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
The attack outside the American Center may have smashed the myth of �heightened security-cover� outside consular offices in the city, post-September 11. But most diplomatic corps wore a business-as-usual look on Tuesday.

�There was a lot of concern on the premises once news of the attack reached our offices, an incident that has been deplored by the British government,� said an official of the British Deputy High Commission, at 1, Ho Chi Minh Sarani. The visa section was shut as a �precautionary measure�, and only �emergency cases of visas were accommodated during the day�. Commercial and other consular operations, however, went on as usual.

The British Deputy High Commission office, sharing the same street with the US Consulate, expressed hope that �things will return to normal� on Wednesday. �It was a sad day for Calcutta� but nobody really panicked. All of us here express our empathy with the family members of those who lost their lives. We are, however, quite happy with the security measures adopted by the state government in the wake of the attack,� added the official.

Security has also been beefed up at the British Council Library, which was shut down for the day following the attack, although the GCE exams were held on schedule.

�We will review the situation on Wednesday morning and decide on whether to reopen the library,� said British Council�s Sujata Sen, clarifying that the GCE exams will be held as scheduled till January 25.

The Japanese consulate office in M.N. Sen Lane, in Tollygunge, too, saw a beefing up of security on Tuesday. �We have spoken to the police and are satisfied with the extra men they have deployed at the entrance and with other arrangements. There is no fear among the consulate office staff here and all consular and commercial operations were conducted as usual,� said senior consul Mitsuo Kawaguchi.

�It is too premature to make any comment at this juncture,� said a spokesperson at the Italian consulate. The German consulate office and the Austrian Embassy also chose not to comment.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
For 17-year-old Garima Kapur, dreams of a Bachelors in Business Administration, in a US university, are fading fast. First the terror attacks on America, now a shootout in front of American Center, where she heads at least thrice a week to go through reference material on business schools.

After the initial shock, fear of the future has set in. �What if they don�t give me a visa after what has happened?� asks the Class XII student of La Martiniere for Girls. The nagging worry at the back of her mind � that universities will shut doors on students from this part of the world � has returned to haunt her.

Garima is not alone in her apprehension. For Keshav Kanoria, also applying to colleges in the US, the main concern is the availability of visas. �It will be even more difficult than before,� feels the 18-year-old. �I am now applying to back-up colleges in the UK and India, just in case.�

American Center, which houses the United States Educational Foundation in India, or USEFI, is a must-visit destination for any student applying to universities in America. According to �private-examination providers�, the number of candidates appearing for common entrance tests such as the SAT (essential for under-graduate admissions), GMAT (required by management schools) and GRE (a standardised test for post-graduate studies) has not gone down. But students � especially from school, who sit for their SAT or TOEFL at the Center � are beginning to feel less than comfortable with the prevailing tension surrounding the Chowringhee Road building.

�It is lucky that this is not a critical time for students applying to the States. Most of them have already finished all formalities for admissions for the fall 2002 semester,� explains Deb Sengupta, director of Consulting Management Incorporate Ltd, which offers courses in TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), GMAT and GRE.

For students of Calcutta International School, where most children of the diplomatic community study, Tuesday�s attack was too close for comfort. �Over 50 per cent of our students went abroad last year, mainly to the US, followed by UK,� explains school principal Nonda Chatterjee. Visits to the American Center and The British Council are regular, as the school offers the University of London�s �O� and �A� Level exams, administered by the Council. �One exam was even held today,� adds Chatterjee. Even more frightening, for the educator, is the �numbness, the lack of fear� in today�s times.

The events of the morning were �played down� as far as possible, so as not to upset the students. A request to the local,i> thana for a picket could not be granted amidst Tuesday�s chaos, but the officers did promise to �keep an eye on the school�.

But protection from shock was impossible. One Class XI student was jogging just metres away from the scene of mayhem on Chowringhee, when he saw ambulances pulling away. He thought it was an accident, but once he got back home and switched on the BBC news, the implications of what he had almost run into, became clear.

It seems little can actually put off students enthusiastic about studying in the US. Says a spokesperson of the only testing centre for GMAT and GRE in the city: �We have seen numbers go up, even in the last few months of uncertainty. On Tuesday, the only difference was that students called up to enquire if the daily computerised test was still on, before coming down to our south Calcutta centre.�

As Ashish Kedia, a 22-year-old planning to go to the States next year, put it: �I know that I am going to study in US, and I am focussed on that. Only people who are not serious about their ambitions might be put off by the fear of what could happen at the American Center or the US Consulate.�


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