ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - The murky case of an American diplomat who fatally shot two Pakistanis this week escalated into a diplomatic standoff Saturday, as the U.S. Embassy demanded the man's immediate release and accused Pakistan of illegally detaining him.
In a statement and interviews, U.S. officials in this capital city said the man, Raymond A. Davis, was a diplomat who fired in self-defense and qualified for immunity from prosecution. Law enforcement authorities in Punjab province, where the shooting took place Thursday, had made no effort to verify his diplomatic status before arresting and detaining him, in violation of international conventions, officials said.
"You don't treat a diplomat like another person. You don't arraign them before a court. That's serious, too, and this will escalate," a senior U.S. official said Saturday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The official said Pakistani authorities had not allowed American officials access to Davis until midnight Friday, "a pretty big breach of protocol."
Shortly after the United States issued its demand, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry released a statement referring to Davis as a "U.S. functionary." A senior Pakistani government official said Davis's diplomatic status was "not clear at all."
The dueling statements signaled a deepening dispute between the United States and Pakistan - tenuous allies whose partnership is acutely unpopular among the Pakistani public - over an incident that has become enmeshed in broader tensions in the relationship.
Pakistani government officials, who are often accused of being puppets of the United States, have vowed not to give Davis special treatment and insisted that the legal process run its course. The main opposition party, which runs the Punjab provincial government, has cast itself as even more defiant, and the senior U.S. official described officials there as particularly uncooperative.
A third Pakistani man was struck and killed after the shooting, which took place in the eastern city of Lahore, by an American consular vehicle that came to Davis's rescue, police say.
In its statement, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said that Punjab police were handling the matter and that the ministry had "no substantive comments to offer." The Pakistani government official said investigators were focusing on why Davis, whom the U.S. Embassy said was assigned to Islamabad, was in Lahore and armed.
The senior U.S. official said Davis was a "permanent diplomat" who was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad as a security officer. Davis was temporarily working at the U.S. consulate in Lahore, the official said. But he was not permitted to carry a weapon, the official said.
Davis told a Pakistani court Friday that he fired on the two men, who were riding a motorbike, after they threatened him with pistols at a stoplight. U.S. officials said the men approached both sides of the car and that they had criminal records and were carrying cash and a cellphone they had just stolen in a mugging.
A Lahore police official said Saturday that one of the men had a criminal record but that the second man's background had not yet been vetted.
Special correspondent Aoun Sahi in Lahore contributed to this report.