An undated handout photo shows 21-year-old Dylann Roof of Columbia in an unknown location. Handout picture: Berkeley County South Carolina Government

Charleston - The gunman suspected of shooting dead nine people at a historic black church in Charleston has been identified as 21-year-old Dylann Roof, police said on Thursday.

Roof was still on the run early Thursday, despite a massive manhunt launched by local police with federal back-up.

He was believed to be driving a black Hyundai, police in Berkeley County, South Carolina said on Twitter, urging anyone with information to call the FBI hotline.

Roof is from the area near Columbia, the South Carolina state capital, the Post and Courier newspaper reported.

Columbia is about a two-hour drive from Charleston.

A picture on Roof's Facebook page showed him wearing a black jacket with patches of the apartheid-era South African flag and the flag of white-ruled Rhodesia, which is now part of Zimbabwe.

AFP