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Gunmen fire on tourist bus in Delhi, wound two Taiwanese

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By Pratap Chakravarty

NEW DELHI, India – Gunmen on a motorbike opened fire with an automatic pistol on a tourist bus outside New Delhi’s main mosque on Sunday, injuring two Taiwanese tourists, police said.

The attack came just a fortnight before the start of the Commonwealth Games, when 7,000 foreign athletes and offices are expected in the Indian capital amid ongoing concerns about security from participating nations.

The attackers struck Sunday outside the Jama Masjid mosque in the ancient walled city, a top tourist attraction for visitors to the Indian capital, leaving one of two victims — aged 26 and 27 — seriously hurt, medics said.

Witnesses said two men wearing raincoats and helmets arrived on a motorcycle outside the mosque, with the passenger opening fire first at the mosque and then at the tourist minibus as passengers disembarked.

“According to our preliminary investigation, they (the gunmen) finished off an entire magazine of their sten gun,” assistant police commissioner Jagbir Singh told AFP, referring to a automatic pistol.

One of the victims suffered a serious stomach wound, said Amit Banerjee, head of Lok Narayan Jay Prakash Hospital where the tourists have been transferred.

The other has a superficial head wound that is not life-threatening, he said.

Indian officials have been forced to defend security arrangements in the city ahead of the October 3-14 Commonwealth Games, a multi-sport event that brings together athletes from countries in the former British empire.

The country is also on edge ahead of a flashpoint court ruling on Friday on a religious dispute that sparked Hindu-Muslim violence in 1992 which left an estimated 2,000 people dead.

A series of security drills were underway in New Delhi on Sunday, with a beefed-up security presence on many of the capital’s main roads.

“The two terrorists came on a motorcycle and the man riding pillion first fired randomly at the mosque and then fired in the air and at the people, and then he fired on the bus in which the tourists had come,” Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the mosque’s chief imam, told AFP.

This account was confirmed by witnesses at the scene, which had been sealed off by police who were carrying out searches for possible bombs in the narrow alleys which surround the mosque.

Chief minister of New Delhi Sheila Dikshit confirmed the shooting and appealed for calm.

“It’s a very sad incident,” she told NDTV news channel. “I appeal to everybody: please do not panic. An incident like this is worrying but nothing to panic about.”

On Friday, a court in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh will deliver its judgement on a decades-old fight for ownership of the site of the Babri Mosque in the temple town of Ayodhya.

In 1992, the 16th-century mosque was razed by Hindu zealots who said it had been built on the ruins of a temple marking the birthplace of the Hindu warrior god, Ram.

The destruction triggered the bloodiest communal violence since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, leaving around 2,000 people dead and a legacy of mistrust between the religious groups.

India’s government appealed for calm on Thursday ahead of the ruling and has placed advertisements in the national press underlining the need for restraint from Hindus and Muslims.