Imigration and Customs Enforcement's Northwest Detention Centre
Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Northwest Detention Centre.Reuters

A 69-year-old man was shot dead by police for attacking an immigration detention centre in Washington with firebombs on Saturday. He was armed with a rifle and firebombs when he was gunned down by police, according to officials.

The man reported to be identified as Willem Van Spronsen from Vashon Island was shot dead by four Tacoma police officers at 4 am outside the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Northwest Detention Centre.

Police said Van Spronsen caused a vehicle to catch fire and had attempted to ignite a large propane tank and buildings using firebombs and flares. Police also found a rifle in his possession.

Police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said it was not known whether the man fired at the officers. Since the officers were not wearing body-camera, authorities will investigate footage from nearby CCTV camera, Cool added.

While a motive for Van Spronsen's actions has not been determined, said Cool, he had previous charges of assaulting police officials outside the facility. In 2018, he was accused of assaulting a police officer during a protest in which an officer was trying to detain a 17-year-old protestor, reported Associated Press.

The privately owned detention facility by GEO Group blames "baseless accusations" against detention centres about how the immigrants are treated are pushing people towards violent demonstrations.

"(These) have led to misplaced aggression and a dangerous environment for our employees, whose safety is our top priority.  Violence of any kind against our employees and property will not be tolerated. We are thankful for the quick and brave action by the Tacoma police department, which prevented innocent lives from being endangered," GEO Group told AP.

The detention centre also includes immigration-seeking parents separated from their children, a contentious move that is said to deter illegal immigration.

US immigration crackdown
Demonstrators rally and march calling for "an end to family detention" and in opposition to the immigration policies of the Trump administration in Washington.Reuters

The shooting took place about six hours after a peaceful rally against Trump's "zero tolerance" against immigrants policies in front of the Northwest Detention Centre.

US President Donald Trump announced a major crackdown on Saturday that is expected to target immigrant families in 10 cities will take place over the weekend. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)  will conduct the crackdown on those who have been deported by immigration court but have not left the country.