U.S. Official Who Shot Two Alleged Robbers May Face Charges

January 28, 2011 - 7:29 AM

Lahore, Pakistan (AP) - A U.S. consular employee in Pakistan alleged to have shot dead two gunmen who may have been intent on robbing him has been formally placed under arrest and could face murder charges, authorities said Friday, in a case that may inflame anti-American anger in the country.

A third Pakistani was killed in the incident Thursday in the bustling city of Lahore, allegedly after being hit by a U.S. vehicle rushing to aid the American.

Police officer Umar Saeed said Friday the American had told officers he had withdrawn money from an ATM shortly before the incident, raising the possibility the two men were following him. Others Pakistani officers have said the men were likely robbers and both were carrying pistols.

The issue of American diplomats or their security detail carrying weapons inside Pakistan was a hot-button subject last year among certain politicians and sections of the media purportedly worried about the country's sovereignty. Many Pakistanis regard the United States with suspicion or outright enmity because of its occupation of neighboring Afghanistan and regular missile attacks against militant targets in Pakistan's northwest.

Protests over the shootout were planned for Friday in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, as the accused U.S. official was expected to appear in court in Lahore.

"'American Rambo' goes berserk in Lahore,'" read the headline in The Nation, a right-wing newspaper that often publishes anti-U.S. conspiracy theories.

Western diplomats travel with armed guards in many parts of Pakistan because of the risk of militant attack. Lahore has seen frequent terrorist bombings and shootings over the last two years, though the city's small expatriate population has not been directly targeted.

Punjab province Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the American was formally placed under arrest after a complaint from a brother of one of the victims. The case is being investigated as a potential murder, and the American may face that charge, Sanaullah said.

Lahore police chief Aslam Tareen said the American may also face a charge involving illegally carrying a weapon, a Beretta pistol.

"Diplomatic staff usually enjoy a certain type of immunity, but I am not sure about murder," Tareen said. "We will consult the Foreign Office and legal advisers in this regard."

In a two-sentence statement Friday, the U.S. embassy confirmed that a consulate staffer "was involved in an incident yesterday that regrettably resulted in the loss of life." The U.S. was working with Pakistanis to "determine the facts and work toward a resolution," it said.

Robbers on motorbikes pulling up alongside cars and holding them up is a common crime in Pakistani cities.

A newspaper editorial in The Express Tribune said it was reasonable for Western diplomats to travel armed, but noted that in America shooting in self-defense can result in a conviction, especially if it can be proved that the accused used excessive force.

Americans and other foreigners have also been frequently targeted by Islamist militants in Pakistan.

In the northwestern city of Peshawar in 2008, gunmen shot and killed a U.S. aid worker as he drove to work. Suspected militants also opened fire on the vehicle of the top American diplomat in the city the same year, but she survived the attack.