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Gunman opens fire on Alitalia crew in Bombay

BOMBAY, India -- A man who claimed to be Iranian stormed into a bus carrying crew members of Italy's Alitalia airline at Bombay international airport Friday and opened fire with a pistol, wounding a pilot, police said.

The assailant fled the bus after his weapon jammed and began running through the airport parking lot. He hurled two grenades, which failed to explode, at pursuing police officers, who overpowered him and placed him under arrest, police said.

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A senior police official said the man later identified himself as an Iranian by the name of Abbas Mohammad Ali Shahadi, but added that authorities did not think he was telling the truth as he claimed he could speak only Arabic.

Police and officials of Alitalia, the state-owned Italian international airline, said the incident was being investigated.

'We don't know the motive for the attack,' said an Alitalia spokeswoman.

The police official said that because the incident occurred outside the arrival exit in the Sahar International Airport's parking lot 'we don't believe this was a case of hijacking.'

In yet another twist to the case, a grenade of the same kind thrown by the man was found Wednesday in a bag left inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Bombay, the police official said.

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Police said the incident occurred shortly before 2 a.m. when 12 Alitalia crew members, who arrived on a Syndey-to-Rome flight and had been replaced by relief staff during the transit stop in Bombay, boarded a bus for a trip to a downtown hotel.

The attacker stormed onto the vehicle and fired four shots from an automatic pistol before it jammed. Three rounds hit pilot V. Santenello in the abdomen and thigh, police said.

The Press Trust of India news agency said the sounds of the shooting sparked panic among the throngs of people in the parking lot, which is always crowded in the early morning as that is the peak time for arrivals and departures of international flights.

The assailant leaped off the bus and was pursued by two policemen. He hurled two grenades, which failed to explode. The officers grappled with the man, overpowered him and placed him under arrest.

The police official said that after the man identified himself, he refused to speak further, claiming he knew only Arabic.

He said police erected roadblocks in the airport area and screened cars in case the assailant had accomplices.

Santenello was taken to a hospital, where he was treated for his injuries. An Alitalia spokeswoman said he was out of danger.

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A police bomb disposal unit detonated the two grenades and security at the airport was tightened, with visitors being banned from the terminal.

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