LAHORE, Pakistan – Pakistani police alleged Friday that an American held in a pair of shootings committed “cold-blooded murder,” while a judge ordered the man’s detention extended for 14 days in a local jail and told the Pakistani government to clarify if he has diplomatic immunity.
The police claims and extended detention are likely to further inflame tensions over the case between the U.S. and Pakistan, whose always-uneasy partnership is considered key to ending the war in Afghanistan.
The U.S. says the American, 36-year-old Raymond Allen Davis, shot two Pakistanis on Jan. 27 because they were trying to rob him in the eastern city of Lahore. Washington insists his detention is illegal under international agreements covering diplomats because he was a U.S. Embassy staffer, and American officials have begun curbing diplomatic contacts and threatening to cut off billions in aid to Pakistan if he is not freed.
Pakistani leaders — loathe to incur a backlash in a public already rife with anti-U.S. sentiment — have for days avoided making definitive statements on Davis’ legal status, saying the issue is up to the courts. The fact that rival political parties control the federal government and the government of Punjab province, where any trial would be held, is further complicating the Pakistani response.
On Friday morning, Judge Anik Anwar ordered that Davis be taken from police custody and held in a local jail for at least two more weeks. In response to defense requests, he also ordered that the government tell the court in the coming days whether the American has diplomatic immunity.
Later in the day, Lahore police chief Aslam Tareen declared that a police investigation into the shootings determined Davis was not defending himself.
“It was an intentional and cold-blooded murder,” Tareen told a news conference.
The police chief said Davis told interrogators that one of the Pakistani men had pointed his pistol at him.
However, Tareen said, the slain man’s pistol had been examined and officers found that its magazine was loaded with ammunition but no round was in the chamber ready to fire. Police also determined that the American shot and killed the second Pakistani as he tried to flee, hitting him in the back, Tareen said.
Tareen’s remarks left open the possibility that the man with the pistol had still pointed the gun at the American. The police chief said the issue of diplomatic immunity was a government matter but that the police have sent a preliminary charge sheet recommending Davis face a murder trial.
The judge’s push for clarity on whether Davis has immunity could give U.S. officials room to maneuver with their Pakistani counterparts before Davis next hearing, set for Feb 25.
“We regret that this incident resulted in loss of life, however eyewitness reports on the day of the incident showed the American diplomat acted in self defense,” said Courtney Beale, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman. “There is no doubt he has diplomatic immunity, and we are working with the government of Pakistan to resolve the issue.”
Davis is to be held in a jail in the Kot Lakhpat area of Lahore, said Abdus Samad, a government prosecutor in the case who briefed reporters after the Friday court session, which was closed to media. Samad said the judge also agreed to get the government’s response on a defense request that any trial in the case be held out of public view.
Davis will be held in a well-protected cell kept for special detainees, said two officials at the jail who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Pakistani leaders may be risking anger within the population if they let Davis go.
On Friday in the southern city of Karachi, an Islamist party protest drew hundreds who burned a U.S. flag and demanded that Davis be hanged. But cash-strapped Pakistan also relies on billions in aid from the U.S., which needs its cooperation to help end the war in Afghanistan.
Exactly what sort of work Davis does for the U.S. is a major issue because it could affect Pakistani determinations about his diplomatic immunity.
U.S. officials in Islamabad will say only that he was an American Embassy employee who was considered part of the “administrative and technical staff.” That designation gives him blanket immunity, the U.S. says.
There has also been controversy in Pakistan over the fact that Davis was armed. A senior U.S. official has told The Associated Press that Davis was authorized by the United States to carry a weapon, but that it was a “gray area” whether Pakistani law permitted him to do so.
Long before Davis emerged on the public consciousness, conspiracy theories about armed American mercenaries roaming the country were common among the population and sections of the media here.
According to records from the Pentagon, Davis is a former Special Forces soldier who left the army in August 2003 after 10 years of service. A Virginia native, he served with infantry divisions prior to joining the 3rd Special Forces Group in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
In 1994, he was part of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Macedonia. His record includes several awards and medals, including for good conduct.
Public records also show Davis runs a company with his wife registered in Las Vegas called Hyperion Protective Services, though it was not immediately clear whether the company has had many contracts with the U.S. government.
The U.S. Embassy says he has a diplomatic passport and a visa valid through June 2012. It also said in a recent statement that the U.S. had notified the Pakistani government of Davis’ assignment more than a year ago.
After the shootings in Lahore on Jan. 27, Davis called for backup. The American car rushing to the scene hit a third Pakistani, a bystander, who later died. The U.S. has said nothing about the Americans involved in that third death, though Pakistani police have said they want to question them as well.
Israr Ahmed contributed to this report from Karachi.