Pakistani activists shout slogans as they walk in the streets of Karachi… (Rizwan Tabassum / AFP / Getty…)
Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan — The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad on Saturday demanded that Pakistani authorities release an American diplomat who faces murder charges in the recent deaths of two men in the eastern city of Lahore, arguing that he is protected by diplomatic immunity and was acting in self-defense against the armed men.
The man, who Pakistani authorities said was a technical advisor working in the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, is at the center of an escalating row between Washington and Pakistan, one of America's most important but difficult allies in the war on terrorism and a major recipient of U.S. aid.
The case has further stoked anti-American sentiments in a country where the U.S. is seen as arrogant and exploitative.
The diplomat told police he had just withdrawn money from a bank in Lahore and was driving through heavy traffic when two men on a motorcycle approached, brandishing a pistol in an attempt to rob him. Armed with a Beretta pistol, the diplomat fired at the men, killing one of them instantly and wounding the other. The second man later died at a local hospital.
Pakistani police took the diplomat into custody and are building a murder case against him. Pakistani authorities have identified him as Raymond Davis, but U.S. Embassy officials have not confirmed his identity.
In a statement released Saturday, the U.S. Embassy said the consulate employee has an American diplomatic passport, and therefore is entitled to diplomatic immunity under international law. The embassy stated that the employee identified himself to police as a diplomat and requested immunity, but that police in Lahore failed to contact the U.S. Consulate in Lahore or the embassy in Islamabad, the capital, to verify his status.
Pakistani authorities have said they will leave it up to the courts to decide whether the consulate employee is protected by diplomatic immunity.
According to the statement, the two men killed had criminal backgrounds and had robbed a Pakistani citizen at gunpoint just minutes before confronting the diplomat. Relatives of the men contended that they carried handguns for their personal protection.
"The diplomat had every reason to believe that the armed men meant him bodily harm," the embassy's prepared statement said.
The embassy's statement did not discuss why the diplomat was carrying a firearm. Under Pakistani law, officials with embassies and foreign missions can possess firearms only if they obtain permission from the Pakistani Foreign Office. The issue of U.S. diplomats and security officials carrying firearms as they travel through the country has sparked controversy in the past.
The embassy statement also did not address the case of a third Pakistani man who was killed when a consulate vehicle rushing to the scene of the shooting struck him on his motorcycle. Pakistani authorities say they want the consulate to hand over the driver and the vehicle.