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U.S. Consulate staffer faces murder charges in Pakistan

Pakistani authorities arrest a U.S. Consulate employee in Lahore who shot and killed two men he says he thought were going to rob him. The incident sets off several anti-U.S. protests.

January 29, 2011|By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities in Lahore have arrested a U.S. Consulate employee who shot and killed two men he said he thought were going to rob him. Authorities said they will pursue murder charges against him in a case likely to inflame anti-U.S. sentiments in the nuclear-armed state.

Police took the man to court Friday, where a judge ordered him held in custody for six days while an investigation continues. Police identified the man as Raymond Davis and said he works as a technical advisor in the consulate in Lahore, but U.S. Embassy officials in Islamabad would not confirm his identity and declined to discuss the case.

The man told police he was in his car Thursday when the two men approached on a motorcycle and pointed a handgun at him. He said he fired at them in self-defense.

Relatives of one of the dead men say the men were armed with pistols for their own protection, and that the consulate employee, an American citizen, was unjustified in firing at them.

After the man called the consulate to report the shooting, a second car, a Land Cruiser, came to the scene. The driver of the Land Cruiser went the wrong way down a one-way street, police said, and ran over a man on a motorcycle, killing him.

The issue of armed American diplomats and security officials is extremely sensitive in Pakistan. In 2009, Pakistani newspapers carried reports of U.S. diplomats in the northwestern city of Peshawar carrying assault rifles while traveling through the city. Those reports were never verified.

Under Pakistani law, officials with embassies and foreign missions are allowed to have firearms but need permission from the Foreign Office. Other foreigners are not allowed to possess firearms. Pakistanis must obtain a license to carry a firearm.

Such reports have stoked the intense hostility many Pakistanis harbor for the U.S. that is based on the belief that America exploits Pakistan for its own purposes and regards the South Asian nation as subservient.

By Friday, an anti-U.S. reaction to the Lahore shooting was beginning to build.

Protests broke out in Karachi, where about 100 demonstrators burned an American flag, and in Islamabad, where protesters held up a banner that read, "The American should be hanged."

In Lahore, about 200 demonstrators led by relatives of the two dead men burned tires and blocked streets. The English-language daily the Nation had a front-page headline that read, "'American Rambo' goes berserk in Lahore."

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah announced the government's intent to pursue a murder case against the consulate employee. He told reporters in Lahore that authorities would not bow to any pressure from the United States in handling the case.

"No suspect will be given any VIP treatment," he said.

The shooting case hinges on the actions and intentions of the two armed men on the motorcycle. Sanaullah said the consulate employee told investigators that he had just been to an ATM and was driving in heavy Lahore traffic when the two men on a motorcycle intercepted his car. When one of them pointed a handgun at him, he said, he fired at both men. One died at the scene; the other died later at a hospital.

However, Sanaullah said, relatives of one of the men killed, Faizan Haider, said that the shooting was unjustified, that Haider had a license to carry firearms and that both men did so for personal protection.

"There are many requirements to claim self-defense," Sanaullah said. "It's not like you can say, 'Someone was looking at me and I fired on him because I thought he might harm me.' It cannot be like that."

The law minister said authorities were seeking the driver of the Land Cruiser involved in the accident, and want consulate officials to turn him over to police.

Asked whether both men might be protected by diplomatic immunity, Sanaullah said that would be up to the courts.

alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

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