Fighting erupts in Sikh temple in 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.

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 surgeries 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.

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.