Injuries in Austrian temple fight

May 24, 2009 10:22:44 AM PDT
Worshippers of Indian origin armed with knives and at least one gun fought one another in a temple in the Austrian capital on Sunday, and at least 11 were wounded, police and ambulance staff said. Police spokesman Michael Takacs said the clash occurred in Sikh temple. Mohnder Ram, a worshipper who said he had attended services there for decades, identified it as a temple run by followers of Shri Guru Ravidas, a late 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 said appeared to be 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.

In Vienna, witnesses spoke of the chaos that broke out shortly after a group of bearded and turbaned men attacked the preacher and his followers moved to defend him.

"Everybody was praying and then it started with knives and a pistol," said Nermal Singh, 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."

Police spokesman Michael Takacs said the scene was "like a battlefield."

He said all six attackers were in critical condition, while the wounds of the others were less serious. More people may have been slightly hurt and run out of the temple before police arrived, he said.

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

All the wounded were men of Indian origin and estimated between 30 and 50 years old, spokesman Bernhard Segal of Vienna medical services said.

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.

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.