VIENNA – Sikhs wielding knives and a handgun attacked two preachers at a rival temple in Vienna on Sunday in a brawl that left at least 16 people wounded, police and witnesses said. A related clash later broke out in northern India.
Witnesses said a group of bearded and turbaned men attacked the religious leaders at the temple in Austria's capital and their followers moved to defend them.
The preachers were among the six people who suffered serious wounds and were identified by Indian diplomats and police as Nirajnan Das and Sant Rama Anand. Police said both were out of danger after undergoing operations for gunshot wounds.
Police spokesman Michael Takacs said the scene was "like a battlefield." Six suspects were in custody with more arrests possible, he said.
Mohnder Ram, a worshipper who said he had attended services at the temple for decades, said it is run by followers of Shri Guru Ravidas, a 14th-century founder of a Sikh sect called Dera Sach Khand.
In India, fighting between mainstream Sikhs and followers of the guru broke out in the northern city of Jalandhar several hours after the Vienna clash, in what locals there described as an apparent reaction to the melee in the Austrian capital. Sanjiv Kalra, a senior police official at Jalandhar, said that protesters had set fire to a number of vehicles and erected several roadblocks across the city. He gave no other details.
Witnesses in Vienna spoke of chaos.
"Everybody was praying and then it started with knives and a pistol," said Nermal Singh, bare-footed, his shirt bloodied and his head bandaged from what he said was a knife wound.
Ram, 72, said, "I heard four to five shots" in the temple. "People started screaming, children were crying as they ran out.
"It was like war. There was lots of blood everywhere."
Witness Mohinder Ram also spoke of "blood everywhere," adding: "People were hit and stabbed with knives."
Bimla Laka, who lives in a ground-floor apartment just opposite the building housing the temple, said she saw seven or eight men with lengthy beards and dark blue and orange turbans fleeing the building.
It was not clear whether some of the weapons used were kirpans, the ceremonial daggers carried by Sikhs. Police said kirpans may legally be worn by Sikhs in Austria.
Takacs, the police spokesman, said of the six people in serious condition, four were "definitely perpetrators." The most serious wounds were caused by gunshots to the abdomen and head.
The possibility that not only the attackers but also some of the worshippers were armed was being investigated, said Takacs. He also said reports that temple leaders had asked in vain for police protection after telephone threats last week were being looked into.
Bernhard Segal of Vienna medical services said that one of the more seriously wounded had to be resuscitated several times at the scene. He described those hurt as of Indian origin and between 30 and 50 years old.
Witnesses said the perpetrators were fundamentalist Sikhs from a higher caste, who accused one or both of the preachers of being disrespectful of the Holy Book.
Ram said about 400 people were at the service when the fight broke out in the temple, in a residential building of the working-class Viennese neighborhood. Police put the number at between 150 and 300.
Four ambulances and three medical helicopters transported the victims to hospitals.
The temple is situated in Vienna-Rudolfsheim, the capital's 15th district near Westbahnhof, one of Vienna's main train stations. Police cordoned off the area.
The Dera Sach Khand sect comprises mostly Sikhs belonging to the lower Dalit caste.
There are several such Deras across the northern state of Punjab. While there are disagreements between the Deras and Sikh religious authorities, violent clashes are rare.
Sikhs make up less than 2 percent of India's 1.1 billion people, the vast majority of whom are Hindus.