Oak Creek, Wisconsin - A shooting during Sunday services at a Sikh temple left at least seven people dead, including a gunman, and at least three critically wounded, and police said they were still searching for other assailants.
The mass killing began when a white gunman or gunmen walked into the kitchen of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin at about 10h30 CDT (15h30 GMT) and started shooting, according to congregation members in touch with people inside the building.
“It was a very co-ordinated thing. It wasn't haphazard,” temple member Amardeep Kaleka told CNN. He said his father was wounded in the attack at the temple in a suburb south of Milwaukee.
Greenfield Police Chief Bradley Wentlandt, speaking for all law enforcement at the temple, told reporters four people were killed inside the temple. Three were shot dead outside, including a gunman killed by a police officer.
He declined to say whether there was more than one shooter, but hours after the attack heavily armed officers were still searching the sprawling temple complex for other suspects.
Milwaukee's Froedtert Hospital said three men had been brought in wounded and were in critical condition. One was in the operating room, the hospital said in a statement.
The 20-year veteran officer who exchanged fire with the gunman was hit several times, Wentlandt said. He was taken to hospital and is expected to survive.
Witnesses said hostages were being held inside the temple, but police did not confirm this.
President Barack Obama, alerted of the shooting at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, said he was “deeply saddened” by the attack, according to a White House statement. He said his administration would give whatever aid was needed to respond to and investigate it.
The Indian embassy in Washington said it was in touch with the White House's National Security Council about the shooting and an Indian diplomat had been sent to the Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
The mass killing in Oak Creek is yet another in a recent rampage by gunmen in suburban America.
In July, 12 people were killed and 58 wounded when a shooter opened fire at a screening of the latest Batman movie in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colorado. In January 2011, then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was the target of an assassination attempt in which six people were killed and 13 were wounded.
“The gunman is worse than the one at the theatre a couple of weeks ago because he targeted an entire community,” said temple member Jagatjit Sidhu. He was among dozens of temple members and onlookers who gathered in a parking lot near the temple after police sealed the building off.
The Sikh faith includes belief in only one God and that the goal of life is to lead an exemplary existence. It is the fifth-largest organised religion in the world with more than 30-million followers.
The temple 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.
In the United States, especially since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Sikhs have sometimes been confused publicly with Muslims because of their turban headdress and beards. In September 2001, a Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona, was shot dead by a man who was said to be seeking revenge on Muslims for the hijacked plane attacks on the United States.
Members of the Milwaukee Sikh community complained to police and a state representative last year about an upturn in robberies and vandalism at Sikh-owned petrol stations and stores.
New York police said they were increasing security at Sikh temples as a precaution. There are no known threats against temples in the city, they said in a statement. - Reuters