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Gunman fires on the White House

A gunman standing next to tourists along Pennsylvania Avenue pulled an assault-style rifle from his trench coat Saturday and took aim at the White House. He fired at least 20 shots, but no one was injured.

"The president was in no danger whatsoever," said Richard Griffin, assistant Secret Service director.

Two bystanders tackled the gunman as he tried to put another ammunition clip in his rifle, and Secret Service agents scaled the iron White House fence and arrested him.

President Clinton, who only hours before had arrived from an overnight flight from the Middle East, was watching a football game in the official residence when he heard the crackle of the shots.

"He's fine," said White House chief of staff Leon Panetta. "He heard the same thing all of us heard, which was the cracks."

Griffin said the gunman had a Chinese-made SKS semiautomatic assault rifle, which is similar to the more widely known AK-47. He fired 20 to 30 rounds, Griffin said.

Several rounds hit the mansion, several more hit the West Wing, where Clinton's office is, and one round went through a window in the press briefing room, also in the West Wing. It had been thought that most windows in the White House were bulletproof.

No one in the briefing room, the scene of many presidential news conferences, was hurt.

Wayne Lowman, a lighting technician for NBC, was among the few people in the room. As he raced to the window to see what was happening, "a bullet came through, and glass hit me in the face," he said, adding that he was unhurt and hit the floor along with two other colleagues.

Panetta said Chelsea Clinton was not at the White House and Hillary Rodham Clinton was in California. "We'll go to church tomorrow and be thankful no one was injured," he said.

Officials said there were no plans to alter the president's nearly non-stop week of campaigning in the final week before crucial midterm elections.

Griffin, of the Secret Service, said the gunman was carrying identification with the name Francisco Martin Duran, 26, of Colorado Springs, Colo.

He said there was "no known motive" for the attack and there was "no reason to think he was not acting alone."

A preliminary check indicated that the man had no criminal record as far as the Secret Service knew.

"I would not characterize this as an assassination attempt, no way," Griffin said. He added, "At this point there is no reason to think it was anything but a lone person."

Griffin said the Secret Service has long maintained that Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House be sealed off.

White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said the U.S. attorney's office was considering what charges would be filed. She said no formal charges would be lodged before today.

The SKS Chinese semiautomatic rifle has been banned from import into the United States since May. The government said more than 1-million SKS rifles are in circulation in the United States.

In Colorado Springs, neighbors described Duran as an upholsterer and said he dressed in camouflage. He served in the Army from 1987 to 1991. Duran's wife said he left their home in a brown Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck.

Investigators swarmed over a vehicle matching that description near the White House after the shootings. The pickup, with Colorado plates, had bumper stickers with these slogans: "Fire Butch Reno," an apparent reference to Attorney General Janet Reno, and "Those who beat their guns into plows will plow for those who don't."

The shooting occurred at 3 p.m. on an tranquil, sun-dappled day otherwise ideal for Washington's legion of tourists. Many often linger at the North Gate of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue hoping to catch a glimpse of the president or other dignitaries. Saturday was no different. The man who witnesses said fired the shots apparently stood along the tall, black iron gates for nearly an hour. One couple said he even took a photograph for them.

He wore a khaki-colored trench coat and was nondescript until he opened the coat and raised his rifle.

Lee Brooks, 24, of Newark, Ohio, a customer service representative for the CSX Railroad, said he was standing on the sidewalk 10 or 12 feet from the gunman when he pulled out his weapon. "He aimed it at the front steps of the White House and started shooting," Brooks said.

Bystanders ran for cover. As the gunman tried to reload, two bystanders tackled him and turned him over to Secret Service agents.

The shooting dramatically underscored the vulnerability of the White House, and the president, when pit against a resolute terrorist. Security officials have long privately acknowledged that they can limit attacks but not prevent them.

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