US police hunt man who shot Sikh amid hate crime fears

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A police officer searches the scene of the crime in Kent, near Seattle.Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
A police investigator searches the scene of the shooting

Police near Seattle are hunting for an attacker who shot a Sikh man and told him to "go back to your own country".

The gunman approached the 39-year-old victim - a US national of Indian origin - outside his house in the Kent suburb.

The pair spoke briefly before gunman shot the victim in the arm, police said. The attacker was described as white, 6ft tall (182 cm) and stocky.

The attack has prompted fresh outcry in India following a deadly gun attack on two Indians in Kansas last month.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj says she has spoken to the father of the man shot in Seattle, Washington, and that the victim is recovering in hospital after sustaining non life-threatening injuries.

At a news conference on Sunday, Kent police chief Ken Thomas told reporters the attack was "a crime of opportunity".

The assailant reportedly wore a mask covering the lower half of his face.

Police have contacted the FBI and other law enforcement about the shooting, which may be treated as a hate crime.

Media caption,
Local police and Sikh community leaders rallied together after the attack

A prominent US Sikh group, the Sikh Coalition, has called for precisely that.

In a statement, the group said: "While we appreciate the efforts of state and local officials to respond to attacks like this, we need our national leaders to make hate crime prevention a top priority."

Seattle-based Sikh community leader, Jasmit Singh, said: "Investigating this as a anti-Sikh hate crime is critical, because without our government agencies recognising hatred for what it is, we can't combat the problem."

The incident follows the fatal shooting of an Indian national in Kansas City last month, in which the shooter allegedly shouted "get out of my country" before opening fire.

That attack is now being treated as a possible hate crime, and the suspect is in custody.

The fallout from the Kansas shooting reverberated across India, with some seeing it as a result of anti-immigration rhetoric from the Donald Trump White House.

Many in the Indian community in the US have voiced concerns over Mr Trump's diatribes against Muslims and foreign workers accused of stealing American jobs.

Sikhs are sometimes confused with Muslims in the United States. Attacks against Sikhs were reported in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks in 2001.

Following the Seattle shooting, the Sikh community in Kent offered to help people understand their religious practices.

"We would be willing to teach them or answer any questions that they have - about our community, about our faith, about why we tie the turban, why we look the way we do - or anything," local Sikh community leader Satwinder Kaur said.

Separately, in another incident, another US national of Indian origin was shot dead outside his home in Lancaster County, South Carolina.

Harnish Patel owned a convenience store in the area.

The Press Trust of India news agency quoted sheriff Barry Palle as saying that he had no reason to believe the attack was racially motivated.