Five police officers were killed in a sniper attack in Dallas, Texas that was likely carried out to avenge the fatal police shootings of two African American men elsewhere in the US earlier this week.
Seven other officers were wounded in what is being called the worst assault on law enforcement officers in US history since the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 when 72 personnel from 10 agencies died.
Two civilians were also shot in Thursday night’s attack that began during a peaceful protest against the police shootings.
President Barack Obama, in Warsaw for a NATO summit, said the whole nation was “horrified” by the “vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement”.
Dallas police chief David Brown said a suspect, who was killed after failed negotiations to make him surrender, cited recent killings of black men (by white police officers) to say he wanted to “kill white people, especially white officers”.
White police officers killed an African American man in Louisiana state on Monday and another in Minnesota state on Wednesday, whose death was streamed live by his girlfriend.
Brown said the sniper was “upset about Black Lives Matter”, an equal rights campaign often described as the modern day equivalent of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
The sniper, identified as Micah X Johnson, a 25-year-old man of Dallas who served in the US military, claimed in conversations with negotiators that he was acting alone and was not affiliated to any organisation.
The White House said investigators had “ruled out” any links to domestic or international terrorism in the shooting.
Authorities have three suspects in custody, including a woman. But they have decided not to share details till they believe everyone involved in the attacks is in custody or neutralised.
Local authorities earlier said the snipers waited for marchers to reach an open area at the end of their route before they opened fire on police officers.
The marchers were protesting the killings of Alton B Sterling, 37, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Monday and Philando Castile, 32, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota on Wednesday.
The aftermath of the Minnesota killing was streamed live on Facebook by the victim’s girlfriend, whose four-year-old daughter was in the backseat. The country was outraged.
“There’s a big chunk of our citizenry that feels as if, because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same, and that hurts, and that should trouble all of us,” Obama told reporters on his way to Warsaw.
That was before the Dallas attack, which started around 9 pm local time (7:30 am on Friday in India). “Everyone just started running,” Devante Odom, a witness, told Dallas Morning News.
Carlos Harris, who lives in the neighbourhood and has served in the military, said the shooters “were strategic. It was tap tap pause. Tap tap pause”.
Suddenly, officers who had been “peaceful” and were “taking pictures with us and everything” were under attack, Harris said. Twelve of them were shot over the next few hours, five fatally.
The killings cast a shadow on the race for the White House, with both presumptive nominees cancelling their campaign events for the day, including one in which Hillary Clinton was to appear jointly with vice president Joe Biden for the first time.
“I mourn for the officers shot while doing their sacred duty to protect peaceful protesters, for their families & all who serve with them,” Clinton tweeted.
Earlier, before the shootings, she condemned the killings of the two African American men, saying, “Too many African American families are mourning. Too many young black men and women have been taken from us.”
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, often accused of dividing the country with his rhetoric, said in a Facebook post on Friday the country had “become too divided”.
He added, “Racial tensions have gotten worse, not better” and it’s time “perhaps more than ever, for strong leadership, love and compassion”.
(With inputs from agencies)