Decade after attack, American Center is twice shyJanuary 21st, 2012 - 2:06 pm ICT by IANS
Kolkata, Jan 21 (IANS) Exactly a decade ago, Kolkata witnessed an audacious terror act when the American Center was attacked by four gunmen, resulting in the deaths of five policemen. Though the scars remain, the Consul office says it is now prepared to counter terror threats.
In a departure from the earlier days when only a handful of security men armed with vintage .303 rifles guarded the complex, now a number of guards wield automatic assault rifles and sophisticated communication devices.
A visitor has to go through a number of checks before getting inside.
J.K. Reneau, director of the Centre, which houses the US Information Service Library and the consulate’s public affairs wing, conceded the 2002 attack caught them unawares but said the security now was impregnable.
“This attack brought that awareness to Kolkata and as a result the security here is now far more elaborate,” said Reneau.
On Jan 22, 2002 Kolkata was enveloped in thick fog when four gunmen on two motorcycles appeared at the gate of the American Center on Jawaharlal Nehru Road. Clad in army fatigues, their assault rifles hidden under black shawls, the terrorists opened fire, killing five policemen and injuring several others before disappearing into the morning mist.
On the probable cause of the attack, Reneau said: “It was mostly to avenge the death of Asif Raza Khan, a terrorist who was killed by police earlier as also to get maximum publicity, the man behind the attack (Aftab Ansari) had formed a relatively new terror group.”
Asif Raza Khan, an associate of Aftab Ansari, was killed by Gujarat Police in Rajkot in 2001. In Karachi, Amir Raza Khan, Asif’s brother, along with Ansari founded the Asif Raza Commando Force (ARCF), which carried out the attack on the American Centre, police say.
Ansari was arrested in Dubai and deported to India Feb 9, 2002 to face trial. Ansari and co-accused Jamiluddin Nasir were sentenced to death by the trial court April 2005. The judgement was upheld by the Calcutta High Court in February 2010. But the Supreme Court stayed the sentences.
Then West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee conceded security failure.
“You may say it was an intelligence failure. I and my administration could not even anticipate that such a dangerous attack might take place in the city,” he had said.
Reneau said: “The attack was so sudden that security personnel got no chance to retaliate. It took everyone by surprise. After 9/11, the whole world started to look at terrorism and security a lot more carefully.”
He said security upgrade was a continuous process and not necessarily in response to the attack, though it did make the authorities conscious about security.
Admitting the security steps now were cumbersome, he said: “What we hope to accomplish most is to reach out to the people and prepare ourselves to present the most welcoming and friendliest face forward. But we also have to ensure the safety and security of the people.”
The Center has put up a memorial in honour of the policemen who died. It is the first thing one notices after entering the premises.
Reneau described India as a natural and important ally of the US in the war against terror.
Like the American official, Kolkata Police Joint Commissioner Jawed Shamim too exuded confidence in tackling terror threats a decade after the attack.
“Police and intelligence agencies always strive to keep the city safe… I think the city is safe,” Shamim told IANS.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at email@example.com)
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