Dallas gunman wanted to kill white cops: police

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Thomas Urbain
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Dallas (AFP) - The deadly ambush of Dallas police by a gunman apparently bent on killing white cops in retaliation for the harsh treatment of blacks by law enforcement triggered urgent calls Friday to mend America's troubled race relations.

Police identified the shooter -- who gunned down five officers before being killed in a standoff with police -- as 25-year-old Micah Johnson, a black Dallas area resident who was an Army reservist until last year and served in Afghanistan.

While the White House ruled out any link between the gunman and known "terrorist organizations," a Facebook page attributed to Johnson ties him to several radical black activist movements listed as hate groups in the United States.

President Barack Obama called the Dallas sniper-style ambush late Thursday a "vicious, calculated and despicable attack," pledged those responsible would be held accountable and urged national unity.

The rampage in Texas, which erupted during a peaceful protest against police brutality, comes at a time of intense soul-searching over the use of lethal force by law enforcement, especially towards African-Americans.

Addressing thousands of people at a prayer service in honor of the fallen officers, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings urged Americans to "step up" to heal the country's racial wounds.

"We will not shy away from the very real fact that we as a city, as a state, as a nation are struggling with racial issues," he told the crowd.

Rawlings echoed the message sent by Obama as the nation reeled from the latest violence: that black lives matter -- and so do "blue" lives, those of police officers.

"We must step up our game and approach complicated issues in a different way," Rawlings said. "And race is complicated."

Veteran civil rights activist and congressman John Lewis had a similar message, warning: "The scars & stains of racism are still deeply embedded in America society."

"We have to deal with it."

- 'He wanted to kill white people' -

Johnson was killed in a tense showdown with police in a parking garage, by a bomb robot sent in by officers after hours of negotiations and an exchange of gunfire, authorities confirmed.

Before Johnson -- who had no prior criminal record -- was killed, police chief David Brown said he told negotiators he wanted to kill white cops.

"He said he was upset about the recent police shootings. The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers," Brown said.

Bomb-making materials, weapons and ammunition were found in his home, police said.

An unspecified number of other suspects in police custody, including one black woman, were "not being real cooperative," Rawlings said. Earlier, officials said three people had been detained.

The gunman told police he was not affiliated with any organized groups.

But on a Facebook page attributed to Johnson, the "likes" include a number of organizations listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies such movements in the United States.

They include the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) and the Nation of Islam, both known for expressing virulently anti-Semitic and anti-white views, the SPLC said in a statement.

On his Facebook page, Johnson appears with his fist raised in a gesture reminiscent of the black power movement of decades ago in America -- wearing a loose-fitting African style tunic against the backdrop of the red, black and green Pan-African flag, also popular during the black liberation drive of the 1960s in the United States.

Another of his "likes" is a group called the African American Defense League, whose leader called this week for bloody retaliation after a fatal police shooting in Louisiana.

"We must 'Rally The Troops!'," the posts read. "It is time to visit Louisiana and hold a barbeque. The highlight of our occasion will be to sprinkle Pigs Blood!"

- 'Pandemonium' -

The shootings -- which left nine injured, seven of them police officers -- sparked chaotic scenes of people running for their lives during a march by several hundred demonstrators in the city of roughly 1.2 million people, not far from the site where president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

It was the single biggest loss of life for law enforcement in America since the September 11, 2001 attacks, and was set to further strain already tense race relations.

"This must stop -- this divisiveness between our police and our citizens," Brown said.

One witness in Dallas spoke of the chaos that erupted as the rally was winding up. Shots rang out around 9:00 pm (0200 GMT Friday), causing panic among the protesters, a mixed crowd of blacks, white and Latinos, who scrambled to take cover.

"It was complete pandemonium," Cory Hughes, a protest organizer, told CNN.

Parts of downtown Dallas were closed off for hours, with no bus or rail service and flight restrictions in effect.

- 'All lives matter' -

The Dallas protest was one of several nationwide over the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota that prompted Obama to make an emotional appeal for urgent police reform.

Thousands marched in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Saint Paul, Washington and other cities late Thursday, with more than 1,000 protesters gathering in New York's Times Square.

Obama, who ordered all flags on government buildings lowered to half-mast until Tuesday, made it clear that violence against police had "no possible justification."