Dylann Storm Roof, 21, allegedly shot dead nine people in South Carolina last night.
He was pictured in an earlier photograph wearing a jacket incongruously showing both flags of apartheid-era South Africa and one from colonial British-ruled Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
The white gunman has been caught in North Carolina.
The attack came just a day after the New York Times warned that “the main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists.”
Two months ago, after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in neighboring North Charleston, major protests occured highlighting racial tensions in the area.
The officer has been charged with murder, and the shooting prompted South Carolina lawmakers to push through a bill helping all police agencies in the state get body cameras. The black pastor was a sponsor of that bill.
It appears that Roof robotically said: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go”,’ Sylvia Johnson, a church member said.
A five-year-old girl survived the attack after her grandmother told her to play dead. The gunman then fled.
Police launched a massive manhunt for Roof and released surveillance images showing him and his car, warning the public that he was dangerous. He was eventually caught on Thursday morning.
Roof’s uncle, Carson Cowles, told Reuters that his nephew had received a .45 caliber pistol as a birthday present in April. He called the 21-year-old ‘quiet, soft spoken’ and said he recognized him in the photo released by police.
In a photograph of Roof on Facebook, he is seen strangely displaying the flag of apartheid-era South Africa on his jacket. He is also wearing another flag depicting that of British colonial Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe.
Roof also displayed a Confederate flag on his license plate.
Court records show he was charged with a drugs offense in March 2015 and trespassing in April.
Police have since headed to the home of Roof’s mother, Cowles added.
Of the shooting, Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen said: ‘We believe this is a hate crime – that is how we are investigating it.’
On Thursday, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have launched a hate crime investigation into the mass shooting, ABC reported.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other agencies have joined the investigation, Mullen said.
Obama called the killings ‘senseless’ and said it again highlighted the need for gun control.