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At least 16 wounded at temple in Vienna

Sikhs wielding knives and a handgun attacked a preacher at a rival temple in Vienna on Sunday in a brawl that left at least 16 people wounded, police and witnesses said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sikhs wielding knives and a handgun attacked a preacher at a rival temple in Vienna on Sunday in a brawl that left at least 16 people wounded, police and witnesses said. A related clash later broke out in northern India.

Witnesses said a group of bearded and turbaned men attacked the preacher at the temple in Austria's capital and his followers moved to defend him.

Police spokesman Michael Takacs said the scene was "like a battlefield." Six suspects were in custody with more arrests possible, he said.

Mohnder Ram, a worshipper who said he had attended services at the temple for decades, said it is run by followers of Shri Guru Ravidas, a 14th-century founder of a Sikh sect called Dera Sach Khand.

In India, fighting between mainstream Sikhs and followers of the guru broke out in the northern city of Jalandhar several hours after the Vienna clash, in what locals there described as an apparent reaction to the melee in the Austrian capital. Sanjiv Kalra, a senior police official at Jalandhar, said that protesters had set fire to a number of vehicles and erected several roadblocks across the city. He gave no other details.

'There was lots of blood everywhere'
Witnesses in Vienna spoke of chaos.

"Everybody was praying and then it started with knives and a pistol," said Nermal Singh, bare-footed, his shirt bloodied and his head bandaged from what he said was a knife wound.

Ram, 72, said, "I heard four to five shots" in the temple. "People started screaming, children were crying as they ran out.

"It was like war. There was lots of blood everywhere."

Witness Mohinder Ram also spoke of "blood everywhere," adding: "People were hit and stabbed with knives."

Bimla Laka, who lives in a ground-floor apartment just opposite the building housing the temple, said she saw seven or eight men with lengthy beards and dark blue and orange turbans fleeing the building.

Takacs, the police spokesman, said six people were in serious condition, including four who were "definitely perpetrators." The most serious wounds were caused by gunshots to the abdomen and head.

The possibility that not only the attackers but also some of the worshippers were armed was being investigated, said Takacs. He also said reports that temple leaders had asked in vain for police protection after telephone threats last week were being looked into.

Bernhard Segal of Vienna medical services said that one of the more seriously wounded had to be resuscitated several times at the scene. He described those hurt as of Indian origin and between 30 and 50 years old.

Preacher accused of being disrespectful
Witnesses said the perpetrators were fundamentalist Sikhs from a higher caste, who accused the preacher of being disrespectful with the Holy Book.

Ram said about 400 people were at the service when the fight broke out in the temple, in a residential building of the working-class Viennese neighborhood. Police put the number at between 150 and 300.

Four ambulances and three medical helicopters transported the victims to hospitals.

The temple is situated in Vienna-Rudolfsheim, the capital's 15th district near Westbahnhof, one of Vienna's main train stations. Police cordoned off the area.

The Dera Sach Khand sect comprises mostly Sikhs belonging to the lower Dalit caste.

There are several such Deras across the northern state of Punjab. While there are disagreements between the Deras and Sikh religious authorities, violent clashes are rare.

Sikhs make up less than 2 percent of India's 1.1 billion people, the vast majority of whom are Hindus.