Oak Creek, Wisconsin - The gunman who killed six people at a Sikh temple in southern Wisconsin was a former U.S. serviceman, a law enforcement official said on Monday, and a monitor of extremists said the shooter had links to racist groups.
The gunman, identified as Wade Michael Page, shot dead six people and seriously wounded three, including a police officer, at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on Sunday as worshippers prepared for religious services. Police shot dead the gunman.
Although the identity of the tall, bald, white suspect in his 40s was not officially released, Fox News said Page, 40, was a former soldier. Page at one time was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fox said, citing unnamed sources.
CNN said Page legally owned the gun that was used in the shooting.
A law enforcement official who asked not to be identified said the "name that is out there is accurate."
Authorities said they were treating the attack as an act of domestic terrorism.
Wade had been a member of the racist skinhead band End Apathy, based in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 2010, said Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama.
Wade also tried to buy goods from the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group, in 2000, she said.
"That's all we know about Wade. We are still digging through our files," she said.
A U.S. official who asked not to be identified confirmed that Wade had been in the military and said it was before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Police were searching an apartment at a duplex in the Cudahy neighbourhood near Milwaukee, presumed to be the residence of the gunman. Generators and floodlights were set up along the street and a bomb squad was on the scene.
The names of the victims were not made public pending notification of relatives, although members said the president of the congregation and a priest were among the victims.
Oak Creek Police Chief John Richards told CNN the suspect had a military background but gave no more details.
The suspect "lived in a community neighbouring ours, we're doing a 24-hour backcheck, just to get any idea what he was up to, what he was doing," Edwards said.
"Right now there is no indication that there were any red flags."
The wounded police officer had been shot eight or nine times in the face and extremities at close range with a handgun. None of the wounds were life-threatening, Edwards said.
Authorities said the gunman had used a 9mm semi-automatic pistol, which was recovered at the scene. They were trying to track the origin of the weapon.
Wisconsin has some of the most permissive gun laws in the country. It passed a law in 2011 allowing citizens to carry a concealed weapon.
Jagjit Singh Kaleka, the brother of the president of the temple, who was among the six Sikhs killed, said he had no idea what the motive was for the attack.
"But we know the more assault weapons we distribute the more situations like this we will have," he said. The United States had a ban on certain assault weapons but it expired in 2004. The attack came just over two weeks after a gunman killed 12 people at a theatre in Aurora, Colorado, where they were watching a screening of new Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises."
In January 2011, a gunman killed six people in an attack on an event by then Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona. Giffords was shot in the head but survived.
American Sikhs said they have often been singled out for harassment, and occasionally violent attack, since the September 11 attacks because of their colourful turbans and beards.
The September 11 attacks were carried out by Muslims linked to the al Qaeda militant group led by Osama bin Laden. Sikhs are not Muslim but many Americans do not know the difference, members of the Sikh community said.
Some witnesses to the Wisconsin shooting said the suspect had a tattoo marking the 2001 attacks. Authorities confirmed he had tattoos but said they were not sure exactly what the tattoos illustrated.
There are 500,000 or more Sikhs in the United States but the community in Wisconsin is small, about 2,500 to 3,000 families, said local Sikhs.
The Sikh faith is the fifth-largest in the world, with more than 30 million followers. It includes belief in one God and that the goal of life is to lead an exemplary existence.
The temple in Oak Creek was founded in October 1997 and has a congregation of 350 to 400 people.
"These people were going to church. Two weeks ago, it was people going to a movie. When is it going to end?" said Ray Zirkle, who came from Racine, Wisconsin, with his wife to light votive candles near the site of the shooting.