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Man questioned in shooting death of Sikh

MESA, Arizona (CNN) -- A man was being questioned by police Sunday in connection with the shooting death of a gas station owner, an Indian immigrant who was a Sikh.

The man has not been arrested or charged. Authorities are also investigating two other shootings that took place Saturday afternoon, involving a man that fits the same description.

The victim has been identified as Balbir Singh Sodhi. Guru Roop Kaur Khalsa, the spiritual leader of a Sikh temple in Phoenix where Sodhi was a member, said Sodhi was 52.

Kirtan Singh, a minister of a Sikh temple in Los Angeles, said Sodhi had received a verbal threat earlier in the week, from a man who walked into Sodhi's store. Sodhi reported the threat to the police.

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Mesa Police Sgt. Mike Goulet said that on Saturday afternoon, a white male in a pickup truck described as a Chevrolet S-10 drove into a Chevron gas station parking lot and fired several shots with a handgun from the truck. Goulet said it appears the man was by himself.

Sodhi, whom members of the Sikh community said was the owner of the gas station, was struck by at least one bullet and pronounced dead at the scene. The driver sped away.

Police said several shots were fired 20 minutes after the fatal shooting, from a similar vehicle at a Mobil station in the city. No one was hit and the driver fled. Owners of this second gas station are Arabic.

Police said shots were fired 10 minutes later from a similar truck at a third location. Nobody was hurt.

Goulet said one of their units spotted a black S-10 late Saturday night. A police patrol unit and a SWAT team was sent to a residence, which they found from a license plate number. Police confronted a man who was taken into custody. He offered no resistance.

A motive for the shootings has not been determined and police said they can't say whether the attacks were racially motivated.

A Sikh acquaintance of the victim said he thought the incident was a "hate crime."

"We're mostly distraught. We happen to practice a religion that makes us look like the bad guy," said Hari Simran Singh Khalsa. "As Americans, we're shocked."

Sodhi, who is survived by his wife and three adult children, was planning to return to India to live with a son, Khalsa said. The Sikhs are a religious group based in Punjab, in northern India.

Persons of Arabic and South Asian descent, including Sikhs, have been subjected to harassment in the United States since Tuesday's terror attacks in New York and Washington, which have been linked to Islamic radicals.

Sikhs are not Muslims, but Sikh men wear turbans and because of their appearance have been mistaken for Muslims. Suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, an Islamic militant based in Afghanistan, is suspected of masterminding the terror attacks.

Khalsa said Sikh men keep their beards and most wear turbans -- "we look more like bin Laden than the Muslims do."

"We've had people that work in convenience stores and gas stations and have been unable to work this week because of overt harassment," he said.

"The victim was targeted because of his religious dress. He had a turban and beard," Guru Roop Kaur said. "Our message is a peaceful message. That's who this person was. He was a very peaceful person."

City leaders appealed for calm.

"Senseless acts of violence will do nothing to help our nation heal or bring peace to the victims of the horrific tragedy that occurred this week," said Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker.

"Now is the time for all Mesa resident to display solidarity by taking a clear stand against violence," he said. "We are all Americans. We are all grieving. Let us unite in peace and determination that violence will never be the answer."

• The Sikhism Home Page

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