Midwest hunt for `race hate' gunman

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POLICE THROUGHOUT the Midwest were engaged in a massive manhunt last night as they tried to find a lone gunman linked to a series of attacks on members of ethnic minorities. In the latest attack, yesterday evening, the gunman shot and killed a man outside a Korean church in Bloomington, Indiana.

Police were looking for Benjamin Daniel Smith, who was said to be driving a blue Ford Taurus and was believed to have sped away after firing four shots into a crowd of worshippers as they left the church. He is thought to have links to a white supremacist group. Jim Kennedy, Bloomington Police Chief, said Mr Smith was a member of the World Church of the Creator, an organisation involved in the distribution of anti-minority and anti- Semitic literature.

A website that says it represents the church claims the group "neither condones violence or unlawful activities, nor do we promote or incite them". However, it adds that the objective of the church is "the survival, expansion and advancement of the white race".

The church, based in East Peoria, Illinois, is led by the Rev Matt Hale, who told CNN television that Mr Smith was a member of the church from June 1998 until May. "He was a thoughtful, dedicated person who believed essentially in our creed, our religion," Mr Hale said. "I never had any information or inkling he would do anything illegal or violent."

Mr Smith matched descriptions provided by Chicago police of a gunman being sought in connection with several attacks in Illinois on Friday. Ricky Byrdsong, a black basketball coach, was killed and six Orthodox Jews were wounded.

The Chicago 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.

Meanwhile, police were also 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 the Chicago shootings. The student was shot in the leg.

The gunman'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."

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.