VIENNA - Investigators believe a sermon at a Sikh temple set off an attack that saw worshippers use a frying pan and microphone stands to fend off knife-and gun-wielding assailants who fatally shot a cleric, police said Monday.

The death sparked riots in several northern Indian cities.

Witnesses said the Vienna temple attended by lower-caste Sikhs was attacked Sunday by Sikhs from a higher caste who accused one or both of the preachers of being disrespectful of the religion's Holy Book.

"We're assuming that the content of the sermon was the trigger," Werner Autericky, a high-ranking Vienna police official, told the Austria Press Agency, adding that the motive was not definitive.

The attack set off a brawl that wounded 16 people. Police said they found a 9 mm pistol and several knives at the scene. It was unclear if some were kirpans - ceremonial daggers that may legally be worn by Sikhs in Austria.

Two preachers - identified by Indian diplomats as Sant Niranjan Das and Sant Rama Nand - had operations for gunshot wounds and Nand died around midnight. The two clerics were visiting Vienna from India, police said, adding they had held services in the same temple on numerous occasions over the past few years without any reported problems.

An Indian diplomat familiar with the incident said Niranjan was in stable condition and "cheerful." The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Six suspects are in custody and four have been identified as asylum-seekers who have lived in Austria for some time, police spokesman Michael Takacs said.

In response to the shooting, hundreds in India defied a curfew and army patrols, attacking police stations and torching the car of a senior officer and several trains. In two places police opened fire on mobs, wounding at least four people, said senior police officer Khubi Ram. One person was killed as troops opened fire on an angry mob that attacked a police station in Lambran village.

The violence in Indian centred on the northern city of Jalandhar, a stronghold of the Dera Sach Khand, a Sikh sect comprised of mainly "untouchables," or Dalits.

Roughly 3,000 Sikhs live in Austria and about half hold Austrian citizenship. Sikhs make up less than two per cent of India's nearly 1.2 billion people.

Caste discrimination has been outlawed in India for more than a half century, and a quota system was established with the aim of giving Dalits a fair share of government jobs and places in schools.

Latest From ...