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Monday, September 17, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Arizona killing may have been backlash attack

The Associated Press

MESA, Ariz. — A man was charged yesterday with murder after he allegedly fired at two gas stations and a home, killing an Indian immigrant inside one gas station.

No one was injured at the second station, where a clerk of Lebanese descent was working, or at the home, where a family of Afghan descent lived.

Police are investigating the possibility that the crimes were motivated by Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and outside Washington, D.C. Around the country, several apparent backlash attacks and threats have been reported against people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent.

Police charged Frank Roque, 42, with one count of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and three counts of drive-by shooting. Bail was set at $1 million.

The East Valley Tribune reported that Roque shouted, "I stand for America all the way!" as he was handcuffed Saturday night.

Authorities had yet to determine whether to add hate-crimes charges.

"Certainly, the bias crime is paramount in our investigators' minds," police Sgt. Mike Goulet said. "That is something we are looking at."

The first shooting killed Balbir Singh Sodhi, 49, who was Sikh. His relatives pointed to the fact that the gas station wasn't robbed as evidence that Sodhi was targeted because of how he looked. Sodhi had a beard and wore a turban.

"He wouldn't have any enemies," his cousin Harjit Singh Sodhi said.

The owners of the second gas station, Ali Saad and Saad Saad, said they were certain the clerk, a U.S. citizen of Lebanese descent, was targeted because of his ethnicity.

Navtej Sarna, press consular at the Indian Embassy, said officials from his government had contacted President Bush; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; and Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza about the shootings.

"We've been assured it will receive the attention of the highest authorities," Sarna said. "All measures must be taken to prevent such occurrences."

India is satisfied with the response so far, and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had expressed to Bush India's strong support for the U.S., Sarna said.

"India is really sharing the pain and anger of the American people," he said. "We ourselves have been victims of terrorism in our country."

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