US investigators yesterday probed a vicious attack on worshippers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in which a gunman killed at least six people before he was shot dead by police.
Three men, including a member of a police unit called to the scene, were reported to be in a critical condition with gunshot wounds.
The killings were condemned by US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who said he was “deeply shocked and saddened.”
The FBI said the probe into the shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, was in its early stages and that no definitive conclusions could yet be drawn.
“While the FBI is investigating whether this matter might be an act of domestic terrorism, no motive has been determined at this time,” Special Agent in Charge Teresa Carlson said in a statement.
Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said tattoos on the body of the slain gunman and certain biographical details have led the FBI to look at the possibility of domestic terrorism, but more time was needed to make a final determination.
The attack was the second massacre to shock the US in under three weeks and will boost pressure on Obama and his rival Mitt Romney to address gun control before the Nov. 6 presidential election.
Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards told reporters that officers had responded to a 911 call and raced to the temple, where one of them was “ambushed” and shot several times before a colleague took down the gunman.
The suspect died, as did six others he had shot in and near the temple. Three men, including the wounded officer, were taken to a Milwaukee hospital, where a medic said they were in “critical condition.”
Witnesses described a bloody scene of confusion and terror as the gunman strode into the temple and opened fire as people gathered for Sunday services.
Japal Singh, 29, spoke to several fellow parishioners about what happened and said that while people were still confused, some things were now clear.
A man who dropped his father off at the temple, known to Sikhs as a gurudwara, said he saw the shooter — described as a tall white man with a bald head — kill two people in the parking lot.
“Then he went down inside the temple and then went into the room where the holy scripture is kept and basically shot more people there, multiple people there,” said Singh, a combat medic in the US Army reserve.
Police did not name the shooter, although they had clearly identified him as local and federal officers soon evacuated three blocks of housing in Cudahy, a suburb just north of Oak Creek, while they sealed off his home.
According to religious tradition, Sikh Indians wear turbans to cover their uncut hair and sport long beards. There are reportedly between 500,000 and 700,000 Sikhs now living in the US.
In the US they have often been mistaken for Muslims and have been targeted by anti-Islam activists, particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
Sapreet Kaur, executive director of the Sikh Coalition, which represents the community in the US, said police should be allowed to investigate, but that he suspected a hate crime had taken place.
“There have been multiple hate crime shootings within the Sikh community in recent years and the natural impulse of our community is to unfortunately assume the same in this case,” he said.