LAHORE, Pakistan – Pakistani police on Friday accused an American held in a pair of shootings of committing "cold-blooded murder," while a judge ordered the man's detention extended for 14 days and asked the Pakistani government to clarify if he has diplomatic immunity.
The police claims and extended detention further inflamed 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 is 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 determined Davis had not acted in self-defense.
"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. Davis' next hearing is set for Feb. 25.
Late Friday, Carmela Conroy, the U.S. consul general in Lahore, demanded Davis' release.
She noted that witnesses to the shooting backed up his self-defense claim. She also said it was the U.S. understanding that the men who were shot were found with stolen property and a loaded gun.
"We regret that authorities did not consider these eyewitness accounts and physical evidence when they stated that this was not a case of self-defense," Conroy said, adding that the two countries needed to quickly resolve the case and continue their partnership, including "our common fight against extremist violence."
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.
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.
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 is an American Embassy employee who is 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 Pentagon records, Davis is a former Special Forces soldier who left the army in August 2003 after 10 years of service.
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.