New Delhi, (Reuters): A gunman went live on Facebook to warn he was taking his “final journey” before firing at a protest against India’s new citizenship law in Delhi on Thursday, wounding a student.
The shooter, dressed in a black jacket, brandished a single-barrel weapon as he stood meters away from dozens of policemen outside Jamia Millia Islamia University, where more than 1,000 protesters had gathered for a march.
He shouted slogans against the protesters, including hijab clad women, before firing at them in the first such incident in the capital during more than a month of demonstrations.
“He was in front of all the people – protesters and policemen who were standing nearby, but he jumped in from this side, brandished the gun and said ‘Come I will give you freedom’,” a witness who gave his name as Aamir said.
The Citizenship Amendment Act fast-tracks Indian citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from three neighboring countries.
By late on Thursday, hundreds of riot police armed with teargas canisters and backed by water cannon patrolled the area as protesters sang the national anthem and waved the Indian flag.
Thursday’s shooting raised concerns from the opposition that youths are trying to take the law into their own hands to crush any dissent against the government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has rejected the protests and members of his Hindu nationalist party and its affiliates have painted the protesters as anti-nationals.
This week, India’s junior finance minister Anurag Thakur encouraged supporters at a state election rally in New Delhi to chant slogans calling for traitors to be shot, drawing a reprimand from the election commission.
Minutes before firing, the shooter, who identified himself as “Rambhakt Gopal” had uploaded posts onto his Facebook profile saying this will be his “final journey” and urging readers to “remember his family”.
His video showed him walking through a road near Jamia, where the students were gathering. On his Facebook the shooter had also posted photos of himself posing with a gun and he is seen wearing a saffron T-shirt, the color of Hindu nationalists. Police later said they had detained the suspected gunman but gave no details. They said one student was injured in his hand.
Facebook later said it had taken down the gunman’s account. “There is no place on Facebook for those who commit this kind of violence,” the social media giant said in a statement. “We have removed the gunman’s Facebook account and are removing any content that praises, supports or represents the gunman or the shooting as soon as we identify it.”
The main opposition Congress party said the shooting showed comments by leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party could stoke violence.
“Is this what BJP leaders … intended? Creating an armed militia of radicalized youth,” the party said in a tweet. India’s Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted that he had spoken to the chief of Delhi police and asked him to take strict action.
“The federal government will not tolerate any such incident, will take serious action and the perpetrator will not be spared,” he said. Modi’s government says the citizenship law is needed to help members of persecuted religious minorities who fled to India before 2015 from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
But protesters say the law, and a proposed national register for citizens, discriminates against Muslims and violates India’s secular constitution.
Some of the biggest protests have taken place near Jamia university, which police stormed in December. On Thursday, police barricaded the road outside the university.
A group of students, most of them women, were holding a sit-in near the barricade after they were stopped from marching to a memorial for independence leader Mahatma Gandhi on the anniversary of his assassination in 1948. At least half a dozen were injured as a scuffle with the police ensued.