Victim no. 11? Sniper probe as woman shot dead

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The Independent US

Police investigations into the identity of the mystery sniper were stepped up today after a woman was shot and killed outside a shopping centre near Washington DC.

Police investigations into the identity of the mystery sniper were stepped up today after a woman was shot and killed outside a shopping centre near Washington DC.

Police were working to determine whether the shooting was related to the sniper spree responsible for eight deaths in the region in the past 12 days and the serious injury of two others.

"A female has been shot and killed," said Fairfax County Police Lieutenant Amy Lubas. The woman was felled by a single shot at about 9.30pm local time outside a DIY store at a shopping centre in Falls Church, authorities said. All the other deaths were also caused by one shot.

A task force set up to investigate the sniper attacks was conferring with Fairfax authorities to see if yesterday's shooting was related to the series of shootings that began on October 2 in Washington and its suburbs in the states of Maryland and Virginia.

Virginia State Police said they were on the lookout for a white Chevrolet Astro van, last seen travelling east from Falls Church. Two major interstate highways are nearby. Witnesses at some of the earlier shootings said a white van or truck left the scene.

Before what could prove to be the sniper's 11th attack, the authorities were stressing that they had many potential leads, even though few details were being released to the public.

"I would encourage you not to read anything into that," said police chief Charles Moose, who is leading the investigation.

"Everyone is very diligent, resources are being provided as requested and I feel extremely good about the progress."

The comments followed growing concerns that the investigation was not advancing quickly enough.

There are no known witnesses to the sniper who has killed eight people and injured two since the shootings began in metropolitan Washington.

For the second week running, the attacker took Saturday and Sunday off, providing some clues about his lifestyle.

"He is a weekday warrior. Even snipers have jobs," said criminologist Jack Fox of North-eastern University in Boston.

"They have to make time to kill, and obviously he does not have time on the weekends. Everything that helps a little helps a lot in terms of finding someone."

The attacker was having fun playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the police, he added.

"He's holding an entire region in his grip of terror. He's enjoying the notoriety that he's achieved here."

Many sporting and outdoor events were cancelled at the weekend amid fears that the sniper could strike again.

At petrol stations, where four of the victims have been killed, motorists crouched down as they filled their cars to avoid becoming a potential target.

"Frustration comes from not knowing where he will strike next," said Montgomery County police officer Derek Baliles.

The last killing happened on Friday morning, when a father of six was shot at a petrol station just south of Frederick, Virginia.

At the time, a policeman was standing just 50 yards away, investigating a traffic accident.

Police have issued a photofit picture of a white truck which may have been used by the sniper.

The box-type truck with a damaged rear bumper was seen being driven erratically near several of the shooting locations.

Investigators have also asked the US army and navy to check their records for any current or recently discharged sniper-trained recruits known to have been in the Washington area in the last few weeks.

Police said the attacker apparently picked victims at random and fired from a distance with a high-powered hunting or military-style rifle.

The youngest victim, a 13-year-old boy who was shot as his aunt dropped him off at school last week, remains in a critical but stable condition.

Investigators found a Tarot card inscribed with the message, "Dear Policeman: I am God" beside a spent bullet casing around 150 yards from where the boy was shot.

Authorities described the serial sniper as not just a local threat, but an attempt to terrorise already anxious Americans.

"This reminds us that people in our past have tried to intimidate and put fear into Americans," Mr Moose said.

"This a strong nation ... and we will not be intimidated."