DALLAS (REUTERS, AFP) – Five police officers were fatally shot and seven wounded by snipers during rallies in Dallas to protest against the fatal shooting of two black men by police, in the worst attack on US law enforcers since Sept 11, 2001.
Police described Thursday (July 7) night’s ambush as carefully planned and executed and had taken three people into custody before a fourth died following a stand-off that extended into Friday morning.
The fourth suspect died from a gunshot wound, shortly after a police explosive device sent in by a robot was detonated nearby, mayor Mike Rawlings told CNN. He said it was still not clear if the suspect took his own life.
He was being "very bellicose and saying he was going to take everyone out," the mayor said. He said one of the suspects was a female "light-skinned African American" but declined to comment on the race of the suspect involved in the standoff or that of the slain police officers.
Police are sweeping parts of downtown Dallas for explosives after the suspect told police he had planted devices in the area. Major Max Geron, a senior Dallas police officer, said the search would take "quite a while", BBC reported.
The shootings, which the police called a “terrorist incident”, took place as several hundred people marched through the Texan city to protest the fatal shootings this week of two black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota.
President Barack Obama called the attack in Dallas "vicious, calculated and despicable".
"Police in Dallas were on duty doing their jobs keeping the people safe during a peaceful protest," Obama said. "These law enforcement officers were targeted.
"I speak for every American when I say we are horrified and we stand united with the people and police department in Dallas."
The president, who is in Poland for a Nato summit, said he was being kept up to date by his staff on the attack and had spoken to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to offer "whatever assistance they may need as they deal with this tremendous tragedy".
Republican presumptive presidential candidate Donald Trump has tweeted to offer "prayers and condolences" to families of the victims. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is attending the Nato summit, is "shocked and horrified" by the attack and would speak with Obama about it, his spokeswoman said according to the BBC.
The shooting turned the downtown of one of the largest US cities into a sprawling crime scene, unfolding along streets that house major corporations, restaurants and government offices.
No specific motive has been given for the shootings at the downtown protest, one of many held in major cities across the United States on Thursday. New York police made more than a dozen arrests on Thursday night, while protesters briefly shut down one of Chicago’s main arteries.
As the rally was winding up, shots rang out around 9pm (10am Friday Singapore time), causing panic among the protesters, who scrambled to take cover.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown said earlier the shooters, some in elevated positions, used sniper rifles to fire at the officers in what appeared to be a coordinated attack.
“(They were) working together with rifles, triangulating at elevated positions in different points in the downtown area where the march ended up going,” Brown told a news conference. He said no motive for the shooting had been uncovered yet.
The suspect “has told our negotiators that the end is coming, and he is going to hurt and kill more of us, meaning law enforcement. And that there are bombs all over the place in this garage and in downtown,” Brown said.
Police initially said four officers had been killed but the main union for Dallas police later reported that one of seven wounded officers had later died, taking the death toll to five.
“It has been a devastating night. We are sad to report a fifth officer has died,” Dallas police said on Twitter. A civilian was also wounded.
A woman who had been in the same part of the garage was also in custody, along with two suspects who had camouflage bags in a Mercedes and a person of interest who turned himself in after police tweeted a picture of him wearing camouflage and an assault rifle slung across his shoulder. It is legal for those with permits to openly carry weapons in the state of Texas.
Television footage showed a heavy police presence in Dallas, with officers taking cover behind vehicles on the street.
BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT
The shooting happened as largely peaceful protests unfolded around the United States after the shooting of Mr Philando Castile, 32, by police near St. Paul, Minnesota, late on Wednesday. His girlfriend posted live video on the internet of the bloody scene minutes afterward, which was widely viewed.
Mr Castile’s death occurred within a day of the shooting of Mr Alton Sterling, 37, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Mr Sterling was killed during an altercation with two white police officers. Graphic video of that incident caused an outcry on social media.
In Chicago, protesters shut down a stretch of the Dan Ryan Expressway – one of Chicago’s main arteries – for about 10 minutes on Thursday.
In New York, several hundred protesters blocked traffic in Times Square in the heart of Manhattan, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot.” More than a dozen arrests were made, the New York Police Department said.
In St. Paul, about a thousand people gathered outside the governor’s mansion, chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, those killer cops have got to go,” and other slogans.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton made a brief appearance in an attempt to quell the crowd. He said earlier that a state investigation was already under way.
“Would this have happened if the driver and the passengers were white? I don’t think it would have,” Mr Dayton told reporters, speaking of the Castile shooting.
“So I’m forced to confront that this kind of racism exists, and it’s incumbent upon all of us to vow and ensure that it doesn’t happen and doesn’t continue to happen,” he said.
State investigators later identified Minneapolis area police officer Jeronimo Yanez as the patrolman who fatally shot Castile during a traffic stop.
The use of force by police against African-Americans in cities from Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore and New York has sparked periodic and sometimes violent protests in the past two years and has spawned the Black Lives Matter movement.
Anger has intensified when the officers involved in such incidents have been acquitted in trials or not charged at all.
“I was already fuming when I woke up this morning over Baton Rouge, but for it to happen here again just pushed me right over the edge,” said truck driver Thomas Michaels, 42, who was among the protesters in St. Paul.
“We live in a racist society where black lives don’t matter, my kids lives don’t matter and I’m sick of it. I don’t even know if it can be fixed,” he said.
Another protester, retail worker Tanya McDonald, 28, said:“What gets me is how many people are failing to see that this is happening almost every day. We’re dying, we’re being killed off by people hiding behind a badge and no one’s doing anything to stop it.”
The Washington Post said Mr Castile was at least the 506th person and 123rd black American shot and killed by police so far in 2016, according to a database it has set up to track such deaths.