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Saturday, 2 November, 2002, 01:57 GMT
New shooting linked to sniper spree
Artist's sketch of John Allen Muhammed appearing in court
John Allen Muhammed already faces multiple charges
A shooting outside a liquor store in the US state of Maryland has officially been linked to a spate of sniper shootings which left 10 people dead and three wounded in the Washington area, police have said.

Rupinder Oberoi was wounded in the shooting at the shop in Silver Spring, Maryland, which took place on 14 September - two weeks before the serial killings which terrorised the region got under way.

Two suspects, John Allen Muhammad and his young companion John Lee Malvo, are being held in connection with the shootings.

They have also been linked to fatal shootings in Louisiana and Alabama.

'Unusual bullet'

Police spokesman Derek Baliles said the shooting of Mr Oberoi had been linked on the basis of "similarity of circumstances, witness information and evidence that confirms the vehicle was in the Washington metropolitan are on the day of shooting".

The bus where one of the victims was killed
The sniper attacks caused terror in an around Washington
The two men were arrested in a vehicle which was allegedly specially modified to allow them to carry out the shootings.

The suspects face multiple state and federal charges over the shootings - the latest charges being brought on Thursday for the murder of Hong Im Ballenger, a beauty shop worker in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The 45-year-old victim was robbed and shot as she was getting into her car after work on 23 September.

Mrs Ballenger died from a single shot to the back of the head as she left the Beauty Depot salon where she worked.

Police said the unusual type of bullet used to kill Mrs Ballenger led police to investigate a possible link to the sniper attacks.

Also on Thursday, Alabama police said the two men had also been charged with the murder of Claudine Parker, 52, at a liquor store in Montgomery on 21 September after ballistic tests again identified the gun.

Expanding investigation

Various law enforcement agencies are continuing to gather evidence against Mr Muhammad, 41, a Gulf War army veteran, and Mr Malvo, 17, a Jamaican immigrant whom Mr Muhammad called his stepson.

United States Attorney General John Ashcroft said the authorities were still investigating whether other people may have been involved or whether the suspects may have committed other crimes.

"We will proceed deliberatively, cautiously and not jump to any conclusions," he said.

"The facts... will determine the final outcome and we intend to follow the facts wherever they may lead."

The suspects have been in custody since they were apprehended at a motorway rest stop on 24 October.


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