Motive sought for US Sikh temple shooting

2012-08-06 19:11
Wade Michael Page lead vocalist of End Apathy

Wade Michael Page lead vocalist of End Apathy

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Oak Creek - The gunman who left six people dead at a Sikh temple in the US and was killed in a shoot-out with police was reduced in rank before being dismissed from the army more than a decade ago, authorities said on Monday. There was no word yet on a motive for Sunday morning's attack, but police called it an act of domestic terrorism.

A federal official identified the shooter as 40-year-old Wade Michael Page. A defence official said the suspect was discharged from the Army in 1998 after entering in 1992. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak while the investigation continued.

Witnesses said the shooter looked like he had a purpose and knew where he was going.

Terrified congregants ran for cover on Sunday morning when the shooting began at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. The gunfire finally ended in a shoot-out between the gunman and police outside.

Satpal Kaleka, wife of the temple's president, Satwant Singh Kaleka, saw the gunman enter, according to Harpreet Singh, their nephew.

"He did not speak, he just began shooting," said Singh, relaying her description.

Worshippers said they had never seen the man at the temple before.

"We never thought this could happen to our community," said Devendar Nagra, 48, whose sister escaped injury by hiding as the gunman fired in the temple's kitchen. "We never did anything wrong to anyone."

Late on Sunday, the investigation appeared to move beyond the temple as police, federal agents and the county sheriff's bomb squad swarmed a nearby neighbourhood, evacuated several homes and searched a duplex. 

No motive yet

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Tom Ahern said warrants were being served at the gunman's home. Residents were allowed to return on Monday.

Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said the FBI will lead the investigation because the shootings are being treated as domestic terrorism, or an attack that originated inside the US.

"While the FBI is investigating whether this matter might be an act of domestic terrorism, no motive has been determined at this time," Teresa Carlson, Special Agent in Charge with the agency's Milwaukee division, said in a statement on Sunday night.

During a chaotic few hours after the first shots were fired around 10:30 (14:30 GMT), police in tactical gear and carrying assault rifles surrounded the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin with armoured vehicles and ambulances.

Witnesses struggled with unrealised fears that several shooters were holding women and children hostage inside.

Edwards said the gunman "ambushed" one of the first officers to arrive at the temple as the officer tended to a victim outside. A second officer then exchanged gunfire with the suspect, who was fatally shot. Police had earlier said the officer who was shot killed the suspected shooter.

The wounded officer was in critical condition along with two other victims on Sunday night, authorities said. Police said the officer was expected to survive.

Tactical units went through the temple and found four people dead inside and two outside, in addition to the shooter.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office has received the bodies of the seven dead and autopsies will be conducted on Monday morning, Medical Examiner spokesperson Karen Domaglski.

27 million followers

Jatinder Mangat, 38, another nephew of the temple's president, said his uncle was among those shot, but he didn't know the extent of his injuries. When Mangat later learned people had died, he said "it was like the heart just sat down".

Gurpreet Kaur, 24, said her mother was among a group of about 14 other women preparing a meal in the temple kitchen when the gunman entered and started firing. Kaur said her mother felt two bullets fly by her as the group fled to the pantry. Her mother suffered what Kaur thought was a shrapnel wound in her foot.

"These are people I've grown up with," she said. "They're like aunts and uncles to me. To see our community to go through something like this is numbing."

Many Sikhs in the US worship on Sundays at a temple, or gurdwara, and a typical service consists of meditation and singing in a prayer room where worshippers remove their shoes and sit on the floor. Worshippers gather afterwards for a meal that is open to the entire community.

Sikhism is a monotheistic faith founded more than 500 years ago in South Asia. It has roughly 27 million followers worldwide. Observant Sikhs do not cut their hair; male followers often cover their heads with turbans - which are considered sacred - and refrain from shaving their beards.

There are roughly 500 000 Sikhs in the US, according to estimates. The majority worldwide live in India.

700 incidents

The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin started in 1997 with about 25 families. Construction on the current temple in Oak Creek began in 2006, according to the temple's website.

Sikh rights groups have reported a rise in bias attacks since the 9/11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Washington-based Sikh Coalition has reported more than 700 incidents in the US since 9/11, which advocates blame on anti-Islamic sentiment.

Sikhs are not Muslims, but their long beards and turbans often cause them to be mistaken for Muslims, advocates say.

Police in New York and Chicago issued statements saying they were giving Sikh temples in those cities additional attention as a precaution.

Valarie Kaur, who chronicled violence against Sikh Americans in the 2006 documentary Divided We Fall, said the shootings reopened wounds in a community whose members have found themselves frequent targets of hate-based attacks since 9/11.

"We are experiencing it as a hate crime," she said. "Every Sikh American today is hurting, grieving and afraid."

Page was a "frustrated neo-Nazi" who led a racist white supremacist band, the Southern Poverty Law Centre said on Monday.

Page told a white supremacist website in an interview in 2010 that he had been part of the white power music scene since 2000.  He left his native Colorado and started the band, End Apathy, in 2005, the rights organisation said.

Read more on:    wade michael page  |  us  |  religion  |  us temple shooting

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