U.S. demands diplomat's release

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad on Saturday demanded the release of a U.S. diplomat who faces murder charges in the recent deaths of two men in the eastern city of Lahore, arguing the American citizen is protected by diplomatic immunity and was acting in self-defense against the armed men.

The man, who Pakistani authorities said was a technical adviser 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 exploitive.

The diplomat has told police he had just withdrawn money from a bank in Lahore and was driving through heavy traffic when two men on a motorcycle approached, brandishing a pistol in an attempt to rob him.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.

Police took the diplomat into custody and are now building a murder case against him. Though Pakistani authorities have identified him as Raymond Davis, U.S. Embassy officials have not confirmed his identity.

In a statement released Saturday, the U.S. Embassy said the consulate employee is a diplomat with an American diplomatic passport and therefore enjoys diplomatic immunity under international law. The embassy stated that the consulate employee identified himself to police as a diplomat and requested immunity, but police in Lahore failed to contact the U.S. consulate in Lahore or the embassy in Islamabad 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 in the incident had criminal backgrounds and had robbed a Pakistani citizen at gunpoint just minutes before confronting the diplomat. Relatives of the men say the men 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.