The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Tuesday it was investigating the killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian aviation engineer, in Kansas last week as a hate crime, which gave the federal agency a lead role in the case and meant the threat extended to the larger community.
“Based upon the initial investigative activity, the FBI, in conjunction with the US attorney’s office and the Department of Justice civil rights division, is investigating this incident as a hate crime,” an FBI spokeswoman said in a statement.
“The FBI will continue to work jointly with Olathe Police Department and our state and local partners regarding this ongoing investigation.”
The White House, which had been slow to condemn the killing, had followed up shortly, with a spokeswoman calling it a “racially motivated killing”.
President Donald Trump issued a comprehensive condemnation of the killing in his first speech to US congress later in the day.
Adam Purinton, a US navy veteran, has been charged with fatally shooting Kuchibhotla on February 22 at a bar in Olathe, Kansas, and wounding his friend Alok Madasani and Ian Grillot, a patrol who had tried to intervene.
Purinton had thought the Indians were from Iran, one of the seven Muslim-majority countries in Trump’s controversial travel ban that had been put on hold by courts and which might be replaced by a new order any day now.
The shooter was heard telling Kuchibhotla and Madasani to “get out of my country”. The two men from Andhra worked at Garmin, a GPS technology major, and had been to that bar several times before, and were well known to others.
This was not the first time Indians were targeted mistaken for Middle Easterners. Balbir Singh Sandhu, a Sikh, became the first victim of the backlash when he was shot dead just four days after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks by a man in Messa, Arizona, who thought he was from the Middle East because of his turban.
The FBI has been treating such attacks against Sikhs — the worst was in 2013 when a white supremacist killed six men and women at a Gurudwara in Wisconsin — and Hindus as hate crimes, as threats to the larger community.
And it works with advocacy groups such as the Sikh Coalition and the Hindu American Foundation to address the problem.