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Gunman said to have targeted Baton Rouge police for assassination

Sunday's bloodshed followed days of unrest over the police killings of two black men under questionable circumstances earlier this month.

By Andy Sullivan

BATON ROUGE, La. (Reuters) - The Iraq war veteran who shot three policemen dead in Louisiana's capital methodically targeted the officers for assassination, authorities said on Monday, as America confronted racially charged gun violence against law enforcement for the second time this month.

During an update on Sunday's ambush in Baton Rouge, police described how video footage showed the former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant, Gavin Eugene Long, 29, hunting down police officers even as he bypassed civilians he encountered.

The carnage came to an abrupt end less than 10 minutes after it began when Long himself was shot dead by a police marksman, firing from a position about 100 yards away.

Police said they believe that Long, armed with two rifles and a pistol, had intended to make his way to the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department a short distance away to take additional lives.

"There is no doubt whatsoever that these officers were intentionally targeted and assassinated," Louisiana State Police Superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson told reporters. "It was a calculated act against those who work to protect this community every single day."

The ambush came 10 days after a similar attack that left five police officers dead in Dallas and nearly two weeks after police in Baton Rouge fatally shot a 37-year-old black man, Alton Sterling, who was selling CDs outside a convenience store, igniting nationwide protests.

Police declined to say whether the attack by Long, who was black, was racially motivated. Two of the lawmen killed on Sunday were white, and a third was black. Three other officers were wounded. One them was hospitalized in critical condition, described as fighting for his life with gunshots to his head and stomach.

PRAISE FOR DALLAS AMBUSH

But an imprint from the gunman left behind on social media included online videos in which he decried mistreatment of African-Americans by law enforcement and praised the July 7 killings of Dallas policemen by another black U.S. military veteran.

The fatal ambush in Dallas in turn shattered an otherwise peaceful street protest that night denouncing the Sterling slaying on July 5 and a second shooting death of a black man by police near St. Paul, Minnesota on July 6, Philando Castile, 32.

Edmonson said Long, a resident of Kansas City, Missouri, was had been in the Baton Rouge area for several days before the shooting, and while he acted alone in the ambush itself, police have yet to rule out his having assistance in planning the attack.

Military records released by the Pentagon showed Long, listed as a data network specialist, served five years in the Marine Corps until his discharge in August 2010, including a six-month deployment to Iraq.

According to public records in Jackson County, Missouri, Long sought to legally change his name to Cosmo Ausar Setepenra in May 2015, but court officials said he never completed the process.

Long also affiliated himself with the Washitaw Nation, an African-American offshoot of the Sovereign Citizen Movement, whose adherents view the federal government as illegitimate.

Police in Baton Rouge, a city with a long history of distrust and tension between its African-American residents and law enforcement, sought to deflect criticism from civil rights activists that the police force there had become over-militarized.

"Our militarized tactics, as they’re being called, saved lives," said Police Chief Carl Dabadie.

The dead officers in Baton Rouge were identified as Montrell Jackson, 32; Matthew Gerald, 41; and Brad Garafola, 45.

President Barack Obama offered his condolences for the fallen officers and their families in telephone calls on Monday to the victims' loved ones as well as top law enforcement officials in the city.

MEMORIAL AT SHOOTING SCENE

At the B Quick gas station where the shootings occurred, people left flowers and balloons in memory of the slain officers.

"I just want us to have peace and drive down the road and not feel like we have to duck our heads and look around and see if someone's going to be on top of a roof," said Pam Collins, a resident of the Baton Rouge suburb of Prairieville who brought three shiny balloons to honor the officers.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, in a speech to the NAACP civil rights group in Cincinnati, said she would bring the "full weight of the law to bear" against cop killers but added that here is "another hard truth at the heart of this complex matter: Many African-Americans fear the police."

Her rival, Donald Trump, on the brink of his formal nomination at the Republican convention in Cleveland, tweeted that "our country is a divided crime scene" and called for stronger leadership on law and order issues.

The violence has heightened security concerns at the convention that began Monday and next week's Democratic convention in Philadelphia.

(Additional reporting by Sam Karlin in Baton Rouge, David Alexander and Eric Walsh in Washington, Laila Kearney in New York; Writing by Grant McCool and Steve Gorman; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Mary Milliken)