US law enforcement officials have suffered their deadliest day since the 9/11 terror attacks after five police officers were shot dead and seven others injured in Dallas.
In an atrocity that threatens to inflame tensions surrounding police and race in a country already riven by a fractious political climate, police said the officers were targeted by “snipers” during a peaceful protest march against the recent fatal shootings of two black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota.
One gunman killed in Dallas after a stand-off which lasted several hours said he wanted to kill white people, especially police officers, according to the city’s most senior law enforcement figure.
David Brown, chief of Dallas Police Department, said the man, Micah Johnson, told police he was “upset about the recent shootings” and “upset at white people.” The 25-year-old was a member of the US Army reserve and had served on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Although Johnson claimed to be acting alone and said he was not affiliated to any extremist groups, a further three suspects, two males and one female, were taken into police custody. Authorities declined to provide any further details and as of last night, it remained unclear how many shooters were involved.
The bloodshed drew the condemnation of president Barack Obama, who described it as a “vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement,” while leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement denounced the violence.
Attorney general Loretta Lynch was among those to call for peace and calm in the wake of the attack, stressing that such an “unfathomable tragedy” cannot be allowed to “precipitate a new normal”.
The shootings, which took place near where president John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, were carried out as hundreds of people gathered for the march through the city on Thursday evening, arranged following the deaths earlier this week of Philando Castile in St Paul and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge Louisiana.
Mr Brown said that “snipers” had opened fire “ambush style” from an elevated and “triangulated” position on the officers. Their apparent aim, he added, was “to injure and kill as many officers as they could.” Two members of the public were also left injured.
Johnson was killed after negotiations with police proved unsuccessful. Explosives were placed by a robot to end a tense stand-off in a car park near the city’s El Centro College, where he was holed up. He had earlier made threats about bombs having been planted in the city, but police said no explosives had been found after a series of sweeps.
Video from the scene showed protesters marching along a street about half a mile from City Hall when shots erupted and the crowd scattered, seeking cover. Officers crouched beside vehicles, armoured Swat team vehicles arrived and a helicopter hovered overhead.
Footage posted on social media appeared to show a gunman at ground level exchanging fire with a police officer who was then shot.
Eyewitness Carlos Harris said that the shooters seemed to carry out a “strategic” attack, explaining: “It was tap, tap, pause. Tap, tap, pause.”
Four of the dead officers served with the Dallas Police Department, while one, Brent Thompson, worked for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
The 43-year-old recently married his partner, a fellow police officer, and was said to have been in “great spirits,” according to James Spiller, chief of the agency.
The protest march in Dallas came after this week’s deaths of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana.
Yesterday, the mother of Mr Sterling’s eldest child denounced the killings that turned the march into a chaotic scene.
In a statement through her lawyer, Quinyetta McMillon said that “responding to violence with violence is not the answer” and that “our hearts break for the families of the officers”.
Mr Obama said America was “horrified” by the shootings, which have “no possible justification”.
Speaking from Warsaw, Poland, where he was meeting with leaders of the European Union and attending a Natosummit, the president asked all Americans to pray for the fallen officers and their families.
In a brief statement to reporters, he said: “We still don’t know all the facts. What we do know is that there has been a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement.”
The president called the shooters’ motives “twisted” and vowed that “justice will be done,” adding: “There is no possible justification for these kinds of attacks or any violence against law enforcement.”
Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokeswoman said he was “shocked and horrified” by the events in Dallas, stating that the murder of police officers trying to keep people safe was “horrific” and unjustifiable.
In an emotive address, Ms Lynch, who heads the Department of Justice at a time when it is investigating several US police departments for civil rights violations, said the US must come together after a week of “profound grief and heartbreaking loss.” She said: “Americans across the country are feeling a sense of helplessness, of uncertainty and of fear. These feelings are understandable and they are justified. But the answer must not be violence. The answer is never violence.
“Rather, the answer must be action: calm, peaceful, collaborative and determined action. We must continue working to build trust between communities and law enforcement. We must continue working to guarantee every person in this country equal justice under the law.”
She added: “We must take a hard look at the ease with which wrongdoers can get their hands on deadly weapons and the frequency with which they use them. We must reflect on the kind of country we want to build and the kind of society we want to pass on to our children. We must reject the easy impulses of bitterness and rancor and embrace the difficult work of finding a path forward together.
“Above all, we must remind ourselves that we are all Americans.”