Pakistan detains American in shooting of two men in Lahore

Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 27, 2011; 11:25 PM

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - A U.S. consular employee fatally shot two Pakistani men who might have been trying to rob him while he drove in the eastern city of Lahore, and another American vehicle at the scene hit and killed a passerby, police said Thursday.

Umar Saeed, a police officer who oversees the teeming district where the incident took place, said that two Pakistani men on a motorbike approached the U.S. official's Honda sedan and that the American apparently shot them in self-defense. Another police official said the two men were carrying pistols.

Saeed said that another U.S. vehicle was traveling with the sedan and that the American fled the scene in that car. As it sped away, Saeed said, it hit a motorcyclist, killing him. Saeed said the American involved in the shooting was in custody while police investigated the incident, but he declined to say whether others were being held.

Even if U.S. officials are cleared of wrongdoing, the incident could be explosive in a nation where anti-American sentiment is strong. Some Pakistani news channels covering the episode raised the possibility that the Americans involved were employees of Blackwater, an American security contractor, now known as Xe Services, that is widely viewed in Pakistan as a sort of mercenary agency.

Alberto Rodriguez, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, confirmed that one U.S. citizen who works at the Lahore consulate was involved in the shooting incident. He said U.S. officials were still trying to determine what happened and whether other U.S. officials were involved.

Rodriguez said he did not know whether the detained American has diplomatic immunity. Police said they were checking on that.

The Central Intelligence Agency declined to comment on whether the detained American was an agency employee. Former agency officials said accounts of the incident suggest that the American was an agency officer. One former official with experience in Pakistan said that the CIA operates a base in Lahore and that ordinary diplomats are not armed.

A CIA link could inflame the already tense relationship between the agency and its Pakistani counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence service. Last year, the CIA was forced to remove its station chief from Islamabad amid allegations by U.S. officials that the ISI had intentionally blown the station chief's cover.

Saeed said the American in custody was moved from one police station after an angry crowd gathered outside, chanting anti-American slogans. Pakistanis who congregated at the scene of the shooting burned tires.

"On the one hand, Americans are killing our people in drone attacks, and on the other, they have started killing our people in the streets," said Mohammed Shahid, 28, one of the protesters who gathered at the scene. He referred to CIA missile strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan's mountainous border region.

Sahi reported from Lahore. Staff writer Greg Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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