WASHINGTON AND NEW DELHI //The gunman who killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin before he was shot to death by police was identified yesterday as a 40-year-old army veteran and former leader of a white supremacist metal band.
Wade Michael Page, who lived just a few kilometres from the temple in Oak Creek, in suburban Milwaukee, is suspected of killing five men and one woman, who ranged in age from 39 to 84, before being gunned down by police.
John Edwards, the Oak Creek police chief, said Page had served in the army for six years from 1992 until 1998, when his military career ended with a "general discharge" that left him "ineligible to be re-enlisted".
An unnamed Pentagon source said that Page was discharged because of "patterns of misconduct", which can used to describe anything from mental instability to extremist views. But one prominent civil-rights organisation identified him as a white supremacist.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said Page came to its attention after an interview he gave to a white supremacist website in 2010. Mark Potok, the director of SPLC's intelligence department, yesterday described him on the organisation's website as a "frustrated neo-Nazi, who had been the leader of a racist white-power band".
The SPLC's public affairs director Booth Gunter yesterday said the number of hate groups in America have nearly doubled since 2000, including anti-Muslim groups, which came to prominence after September 11. But he said it was too early to tell whether Sunday's shooting was a hate crime aimed at the Sikh community. "On the face of it, it's a hate crime. But we don't know if he was targeting Sikhs or Muslims."
Since the September 11 attacks, there have been a number of incidents in which Sikh men - who traditionally wear turbans and do not shave their beards - have been victims of crimes motivated by hatred of Muslims. There are about half a million Sikhs in the US. Members of the religion, which originates in Punjab, an area straddling Pakistan and India, have been calling America their home for more than a century. Worldwide, the Sikh faith has more than 30 million followers.
Amardeep Singh, co-founder of The Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil-rights group in America, said that the Wisconsin shooting came after 11 years of "bad programming", in which he said a 24-hour news cycle from America's wars overseas has cemented an image that a "turban equals terrorism". He said there needed to be a redoubling of efforts to educate the public about the Sikh community in America.
The shootings also sparked protests outside the US embassy in Delhi yesterday. Nancy Powell, the US ambassador to India, visited the Sikh Bangla Sahib Gurudwara in Delhi to offer condolences.
Tarsem Singh, chairman of an organisation that manages Sikh temples in Delhi state, said three of the six victims were from neighbourhoods in West Delhi as well as one of the wounded, Santosh Singh, 35, who sang devotional songs and had left for the US only days ago."[The Sikh religious board in the US] had called Santosh to help with prayer services," said Mr Singh. "It was a happy occasion for the family. Now I have to go console them."
Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, a Sikh, said he was "deeply shocked and saddened" by the shooting.