Sikhs express shock after shootings at Wisconsin temple

Sikhs living in the United States express their shock at the shooting

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Sikhs living in the United States have expressed their shock and fear after a shooting at a temple in Wisconsin on Sunday which left seven people dead.

Some community members could not believe what happened. Others said they had feared such attacks since 9/11.

A gunman entered the Sikh temple on Sunday morning and opened fire, killing six people and injuring a policeman.

The suspect has been named as Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old army veteran, in US media reports.

But his identity has not been independently confirmed to the BBC.

A vigil for the victims was held in nearby Milwaukee as police searched the suspect's home.

FBI and bomb squad officers have surrounded the property of the alleged gunman in Cudahy, about 2.5 miles (4km) north of the Wisconsin Sikh Temple, and evacuated local residents.

In total, seven people died in the attack in Oak Creek, a suburb of Milwaukee, including the gunman. A police officer and two other men were critically injured.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is himself a Sikh, said he was "deeply shocked and saddened" by the attack.

"That this senseless act of violence should be targeted at a place of religious worship is particularly painful," Mr Singh said in a statement.

Muslim confusion

Sikhism at a glance

  • Sikhism is a monotheistic faith founded more than 500 years ago in South Asia
  • Observant Sikhs do not cut their hair; male followers often wear turbans and do not shave their beards
  • The faith has about 27 million followers worldwide. There are up to 500,000 Sikhs in the US, where they have sometimes been confused with Muslims
  • In Sept 2001, an Arizona gas station owner, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was shot dead by a man said to be seeking revenge on Muslims for 9/11

Officials have not yet identified the gunman or a possible motive, but Sikh organisations in the US say the community has been vulnerable since the 9/11 attacks.

"This is something we have been fearing since 9/11, that this kind of incident will take place," said Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Washington-based Sikh Council on Religion and Education.

"It was a matter of time because there's so much ignorance and people confuse us [as] being members of Taliban or belonging to [Osama] bin Laden," he told Associated Press.

"We never thought this could happen to our community," Devendar Nagra, 48, told Associated Press. "We never did anything wrong to anyone."

Sikhism hails from the Indian subcontinent, and observant Sikhs wear turbans. Members of the community have been attacked in the past by assailants mistaking them for Muslims.

"That turban has tragically marked us as automatically suspect, perpetually foreign and potentially terrorists," Valarie Kaur, a filmmaker based in the US who has chronicled attacks on Sikhs, told AP.

Start Quote

People here are in a state of a shock. This is a very small and peaceful place, you would never imagine this kind of attack could happen here”

End Quote Kashif Afridi Oak Creek cab driver

Several hundred people turned up to an impromptu candlelit vigil in Milwaukee on Sunday evening for the victims.

Cab driver and Oak Creek resident Kashif Afridi went to the temple after he heard about the attack.

"When the shooting happened, I was at home watching the news. I went straight out and drove to the temple. There were lots of police and the area was closed off.

"The press was already there and there were lots of people from the Sikh community. I spoke to one girl who was in the temple when the shooting happened.

"She said when the shooting started, everyone panicked. People were running around trying to hide. She said she lost her uncle.

"People here are in a state of a shock. This is a very small and peaceful place, you would never imagine this kind of attack could happen here. Nobody can believe it.

"Lots of people have gathered in the area. People just stop by to express their sympathies."

'Terrorist-type incident'

There are an estimated 2,500-3,000 Sikh families in and around the city worshipping at two gurdwaras, or temples, including the Wisconsin Sikh Temple.

A man wipes away tears outside the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where a shooting took place on 5 August 2012 Distraught family members are still waiting for news in Oak Creek

Lakhwinder Singh, a member of the congregation there, told Reuters that two of the victims were believed to be the president of temple and a priest.

"It will take a long time to heal. We're hurt very badly," he said.

President Barack Obama expressed his condolences with victims of the attack, which comes just over two weeks after a gun massacre left 12 people dead at a Colorado cinema.

"As we mourn this loss which took place at a house of worship, we are reminded how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family."

The US embassy in India said it was "deeply saddened by the senseless loss of lives and injuries" caused by the shooting.

"Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out to the victims and their families," a statement said.

"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."

Local politician Mark Honadel called the attack "craziness".

The state representative told CNN: "Unfortunately, when this type of stuff hits your area, you say to yourself, 'why?' But in today's society, I don't think there's any place that's free from idiots."

Police have described it as a "domestic terrorist-type incident". The FBI are taking over the criminal investigation.

There was believed to be only one attacker, with eyewitness reports suggesting it was a white male.

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