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13 dead in Washington shooting

Authorities say they are still hunting for two gunmen with another killed in the shootout.

Police respond to the report of a shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC, 16 September 2013. Three gunmen shot, killed and wounded several people in a headquarters building at the US Navy Yard in Washington. Picture: Saul Loeb/AFP

WASHINGTON - A decorated military veteran opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday in a burst of violence that killed 13 people, including the gunman, and set off waves of panic at the military installation just miles from the White House and US Capital.

The FBI identified the suspect as Aaron Alexis, 34, of Fort Worth, Texas, a onetime Navy contractor who attended a Buddhist temple and had two gun-related brushes with the law. He received a general discharge from the Navy Reserve in 2011 after a series of misconduct issues, a Navy official said.

He was killed in one of several gun battles with police.

The motive and how he breached security remained unknown. About 12 people were injured, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said, though it was unclear how many of them were shot.

Hours after the incident, police were searching for a possible second suspect in an incident that raised questions about security at the Washington Navy Yard, 1.6 km south of the US Capital and 5 km from the White House.

Somehow the gunman managed to enter the Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters building about 8:20 a.m. and started picking off victims from a fourth-floor atrium, witnesses said.

That set off pandemonium, with fire alarms sounding and security officers yelling at people to leave the building. Hundreds fled, some scrambling over walls to escape the gunfire. A loudspeaker announcement ordered those who remained to stay in their offices.

The command where the shooting takes place requires two separate identification badges, one to get on the base and another to access the building, according to a source who works at the Navy Yard and requested anonymity.

Police patrol officers and active shooter teams responding to calls fought a series of gun battles with the shooter until he was killed, Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.

"Everybody was panicking and trying to decide which way to get out. A few of us just ran out the side exit," Patricia Ward, who works at the Navy Yard, told reporters.

Alexis, a one-time Texas resident who was known to worship at a Buddhist temple, served in the military and most recently was furthering his education while holding a job in the private sector, his father, Algernon Alexis, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

He was arrested on 4 September 2010, in Fort Worth, Texas, on a misdemeanour charge of discharge of a firearm but the case was dropped when investigators determined that Alexis was cleaning his gun and it accidentally fired, Tarrant County prosecutors, said in a statement.

The shooting revealed a potentially serious security breach.

Military personnel are generally banned from carrying weapons on military installations but most people with proper credentials are not routinely checked for firearms.

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