By Lisa Maria Garza and Marice Richter
DALLAS (Reuters) – At least one sniper killed five Dallas police officers and wounded another seven in a racially charged attack that ended when police used a robot carrying a bomb to kill him, the city’s shaken police chief said on Friday.
The Thursday night killings, at the end of a protest over this week’s pair of fatal shootings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, added anxiety and fear to the national debate over excessive police force, racial disparities in the justice system and gun violence.
A long string of killings of black men by police in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, New York, Baltimore and Chicago have given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement against excessive police force. The killings have spurred almost two years of largely peaceful street protests.
Thursday’s shooting sent protesters running in panic while swarms of police found themselves under attack by what they believed to be multiple gunmen using high-powered rifles at ground level and on rooftops.
The suspect was identified as Micah X. Johnson, who was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, a U.S. government source told Reuters.
During lengthy negotiations with police, the gunman said “the end is coming,” according to Dallas Police Chief David Brown.
“The suspect said he was upset about Black Lives Matter,” said Brown, who is black. “He said he was upset about the recent police shootings. The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated that he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”
Brown declined to say how many people took place in the attack. “We’re going to keep these suspects guessing,” he told reporters at City Hall.
Police said they were questioning two occupants of a Mercedes they had pulled over after seeing a man throwing a camouflage bag inside the back of the vehicle, which then sped off on a downtown street. A woman was also taken into custody near the garage where the standoff took place.
Quinyetta McMillon, who had a child with Alton Sterling, the black man slain by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, earlier this week, condemned the Dallas attack in a statement.
“Regardless of how angry or upset people may be, resorting to this kind of sickening violence should never happen and simply cannot be tolerated,” McMillon said.
A Twitter account describing itself as representing the Black Lives Matter movement sent the message: “Black Lives Matter advocates dignity, justice and freedom. Not murder.”
With Thursday’s attack, 26 police officers have been shot and killed in the United States so far this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. That is up 44 percent from the 18 officers slain in the same period in 2015, the group said.
DEADLIEST DAY SINCE 9/11
It was the deadliest day for police in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
A video taken by a witness shows a man with a rifle crouching at ground level and charging at and then shooting another person who appeared to be wearing a uniform. That person then collapsed to the ground.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the authenticity of the video.
A total of 12 police officers and two civilians were shot during the attack, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. Three of the officers who were shot were women, he said.
One of the dead officers was identified as Brent Thompson, 43. He was the first officer killed in the line of duty since Dallas Area Rapid Transit formed a police department in 1989, DART said on its website. Thompson joined DART in 2009.
Rawlings told CBS News the people in custody, including one woman, were “not being cooperative” with police investigators. He said the assailant who was dead was being fingerprinted and his identity checked with federal authorities.
There was no sign of international links to the attacks, U.S. officials said on Friday.
Experts on extremist groups said such attacks are not necessarily carried out by an organization and are often the work of individuals. Black groups have not been linked to any recent violent attacks in the United States, they said.
President Barack Obama, who was traveling in Poland, expressed his “deepest condolences” to Rawlings on behalf of the American people.
“I believe I speak for every single American when I say that we are horrified over these events and we are united with the people and police department in Dallas,” he said.
Obama said the FBI was in contact with Dallas police and that the federal government would provide assistance.
“We still don’t know all of the facts. What we do know is that there has been a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement,” he said.
A large swath of downtown Dallas was closed to traffic and pedestrians on Friday as police gathered evidence.
The shooting happened as otherwise largely peaceful protests unfolded around the United States after the police shooting of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man, on Wednesday during a traffic stop near St. Paul, Minnesota.
The day earlier, police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, shot dead Sterling, 37, while responding to a call alleging he had threatened someone with a gun.
Over the last two years, there have been periodic and sometimes violent protests over the use of police force against African-Americans in cities from Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore and New York. Anger has intensified when the officers were acquitted in trials or not charged at all.
Dallas is a pioneer in training its police officers in de-escalation techniques, Rawlings told reporters, saying the department had the lowest number of police-involved shootings of any large American city.
Presidential candidates Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton canceled planned events following the attack.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida and Laila Kearney in New York; Writing by Scott Malone and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Alison Williams and Jeffrey Benkoe)