Sikh extremists armed with automatic weapons shot their way through a mostly Hindu town in northern Haryana state, firing indiscriminantly at passers-by in a rampage that left 23 people dead and 25 wounded, police said Wednesday.

Police in Chandigarh, the joint capital of the Haryana and Punjab states, blamed the assault on the Khalistan Commando Force, one of the most radical of several Sikh extremist groups fighting to create an independent Sikh nation in Punjab.Six gunmen - four in a jeep and two on a motorcycle - staged the Tuesday night killing spree in Kaithal, a mostly Hindu town 80 miles southwest of Chandigarh on the Punjab border, authorities said.

After first fatally shooting six people standing beside a railway crossing, the assailants sped down the main street of the town of about 100,000 people, killing five members of one family who were standing outside a shoe shop, police said.

Shopkeepers closed their stalls and residents fled indoors with the sound of gunfire, but the Sikh militants proceeded to prowl the deserted streets for targets. The gunmen found a group of people huddled outside a liquor shop in the commercial district and opened fire, killing 10, police said.