New York: A deadly shooting in a gurudwara in Oak Creek in the state of Wisconsin has left six people dead. The gunman identified as a white male was killed by a police officer who responded to the 911 call. Three people including the police officer were critically injured and rushed to hospital. The shooting happened at around 11 am (US time).
The police recovered two semi-automatic handguns from the scene. The motive for the attack is not known but the FBI, which has taken over the investigation is treating it as an act of domestic terrorism.
FBI Milwaukee issued a statement, "The FBI is working closely with the Oak Creek Police Department and other local and federal agencies to investigate today's shooting incident. This remains an active investigation in its early stages. While the FBI is investigating whether this matter might be an act of domestic terrorism, no motive has been determined at this time. We know our community has been deeply impacted by this incident, and our thoughts are with those affected and particularly with the officer who was wounded in the line of duty to protect others."
CNN reports say that the gunman had a 9/11 tattoo and was dressed in a white T-shirt and black pants.
The gurudwara has been cleared and the area surrounding it has been cordoned off. The Indian consulate is in touch with the US authorities and the victims' families.
Sikhs for Justice, a Sikh rights group in the United States, has announced $ 10,000 for the policeman who saved many lives by first responding to the 911 call.
US President Barack Obama has condemned the incident. A statement issued by the White House said, "Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the shooting that tragically took so many lives in Wisconsin. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded. My Administration will provide whatever support is necessary to the officials who are responding to this tragic shooting and moving forward with an investigation."
Reacting to the incident, the US Embassy in its statement said, "The members of the US Mission in India join President Obama in his expression of sympathy and condolences to the Sikh communities in the United States and India. We are deeply saddened by the senseless loss of lives and injuries caused by the August 5 shooting at a Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out to the victims and their families. An investigation into the incident has begun. Any incident like this one is tragic, especially when it happens in a place of worship. The United States takes very seriously the responsibility to respect and protect people of all faiths. Religious freedom and religious tolerance are fundamental pillars of US society. The Sikh community in the United States contributes to this principle and meaningfully enhances the American social fabric."
Meanwhile, the New York police have also increased vigilance at the gurudwaras in New York as a precaution. "There is no known threat against Sikh temples in New York City; however, the coverage is being put in place out of an abundance of caution," the New York police said in a statement.
This was the second shooting incident in the US in two weeks, after the massacre at a Colorado movie theatre that left 12 dead. Back in India, Akali Dal activists are planning to hold a protest outside the US consulate today.
More than 400 people were reportedly inside the gurudwara when the shooting occured. A Sikh priest had specially come from India to address the gathering on Sunday.
Witnesses at the gurudwara had said there was more than one gunman, but Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said reports of multiple gunmen were common in incidents that involved only one shooter.
"We believe there was one but we can't be sure," he said. Officers finished sweeping the gurudwara only after hours of searching, and Edwards said the investigation was just starting.
Milwaukee's Froedtert Hospital said three men had been brought in wounded and were in critical condition. One had been shot in the abdomen, one in the extremities and face, and a third was hit in the neck.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Sunday described as "deeply painful and shocking" the attack by gunmen on devotees at a Gurudwara in the US and urged the authorities there to ensure that the sanctity of religious shrines is maintained. Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal is monitoring the situation in New Delhi and will take up the issue with the Union Government, an official spokesman said on Sunday night.
Sikhs in US
The Sikh faith is the fifth-largest in the world, with more than 30 million followers. It includes belief in one God and that the goal of life is to lead an exemplary existence.
The gurudwara in Oak Creek was founded in October 1997 and has a congregation of 350 to 400 people. There are an estimated 500,000 or more Sikhs in the United States.
(With additional information from Reuters)