Drive-by gunman strikes in Chicago

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A SWEEPING manhunt was under way in the Chicago area yesterday as police tried to find a lone gunman who cruised in his saloon car through the northern fringes of the city on Friday evening, shooting a series of pedestrians from the passenger window, killing one and injuring several others.

The attacks, committed in normally peaceful and leafy suburbs, cast a pall of horror over 4 July celebrations in the lakeside city. With soaring temperatures and muggy air, residents were on edge yesterday as the killer remained at large.

There was growing suspicion that the shootings were motivated by racial hatred. Witnesses described the suspect as a white male, aged 25-30; all his victims were from minority communities, including one African American, six Orthodox Jews and an Asian couple. The slain man was named as Ricky Byrdsong, a black basketball coach, who was walking with his children.

Meanwhile, police were investigating a drive-by shooting of an Asian student in the university town of Urbana, 60 miles south of Chicago, late on Saturday night. Descriptions of the assailant appeared to match those of the suspect in Friday's Chicago shootings. The student, who was in hospital yesterday, was hit in the leg.

The man's rampage began in Roger's Park, a racially diverse neighbourhood on the northern edge of Chicago and home to high numbers of Orthodox Jews. He first struck as Jews were walking home from their Sabbath services. Bullets from two guns, one an automatic, hit six men. Two are in hospital with serious wounds.

"They are so vulnerable on the Sabbath," remarked Howard Carroll, a former state senator and resident of the district. "The whole community feels violated and they're doubly violated because it happened on a holy day."

In all, the suspect drove about 10 miles during his Friday night attack. From Roger's Park, he travelled to Skokie, where he shot Mr Byrdsong and from there to another neighbourhood, where he fired into the car of an Asian couple - neither of whom was hurt.

Yesterday, an American Jewish organisation offered a $10,000 (pounds 6,370) reward for information leading to the arrest of the gunman. Meanwhile, public outrage was voiced in Israel over the attacks. One of those injured, Gideon Sapir, is an Israeli citizen and a former resident of the West Bank.

Chicago police were holding back from describing the shootings as racist. "At this point we're not jumping to the conclusion that it's a hate crime," said Patrick Camden, spokes-man for the police department. "All of the elements appear to be there, but until we get the offender, we won't know."

Mr Byrdsong was a well-known basketball figure who retired as coach to the Northwestern University team in 1997. He was walking near his home in the suburb of Skokie when he was hit in the lower back by a bullet apparently fired from the suspect's car. Police said Mr Byrdsong suffered a severed aorta and died in hospital from internal bleeding.