(CNSNews.com) – The arrest of an American citizen accused of shooting dead two Pakistanis has been seized upon by Islamists and others critical of their country’s ties with the United States, triggering mass demonstrations by protestors angered by rumors that the man may be freed.
“Hang Raymond Davis immediately,” read a large banner displayed during a large rally in Lahore on Sunday, attended by leaders of several radical Islamic parties and organizations.
Pakistan’s media are describing the man variously as a “commando,” a CIA operative, or an agent of a private security contractor. The foreign ministry called him a “U.S. functionary.”
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, however, says the American, whom it has not named, is a diplomat who acted in self-defense after being confronted by two armed men on motorcycles in Lahore last Thursday.
“The diplomat had every reason to believe that the armed men meant him bodily harm,” it said in a statement. “Minutes earlier, the two men, who had criminal backgrounds, had robbed money and valuables at gunpoint from a Pakistani citizen in the same area.”
The embassy said that as the man holds a U.S. diplomatic passport, his detention is a violations of international norms and the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity. It called for his immediate release.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on Thursday confirmed that “an employee at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore” was involved in an incident. He said the name being given in Pakistani reports was wrong, but did not provide the man’s correct name.
Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city and the capital of Punjab province, has frequently been hit by terrorist attacks, including shootings and suicide bombings.
Pakistani media report that the American appeared in a Lahore magistrate’s court on Friday, pleaded not guilty and was remanded in custody for six days of further questioning.
A third person was reportedly killed in the incident, knocked down when an escorting vehicle rushed to the American’s aid on the busy street where the shooting occurred, according to police and government accounts.
Pakistani presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar in a statement reported Sunday by the Geo television station denied rumors that the government planned to release and repatriate the detained American.
“The law will take its own course and investigations are still going on,” he said. “Legal process will be observed and respected.”
A senior Punjab state prosecutor, Rana Bakhtiar, announced Sunday that “Davis” did not enjoy any special diplomatic protection as he was in Pakistan on a business visa.
In a typical reaction from leading Islamists to the shooting incident, the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, Munawar Hasan, said in a statement that U.S. “terrorism” has now spilled over from the border areas into Pakistan cities “where innocent citizens were becoming the victim.”
Hasan, who addressed the mass rally on Sunday, demanded that “Davis” be hanged.
Another senior Islamist, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed of the Jamiat Ulema Islam party, told the gathering that if the government aided the detained U.S. citizen inappropriately “this crowd will surround the U.S. Embassy and presidential palace in Islamabad.”
“Anti-American sentiment is already rife in Pakistan,” the Lahore-based Daily Times said in an editorial on Monday.
“By asking the Pakistani state to let Mr. Davis leave the country without a proper court hearing, the Americans are not doing their already hated image much good.”
A Frontier Post editorial also accused of a lack of respect for Pakistani law.
“The U.S. has developed a culture since the fall of a bi-polar world towards the end of 1990s that she was over and above all international and national laws of another country and its citizens must escape punishment no matter how heinous is the crime,” the national daily said.
Anti-U.S. demonstrations are commonplace in Pakistan, and the “Davis” case has provided fresh subject matter for protestors who regularly rail against the U.S.-Pakistani counter-terrorism cooperation, drone strikes along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and the jailing in the U.S. last year of Aafia Siddiqi, a Pakistani woman found guilty of trying to kill U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan.
Some Islamist politicians and others are comparing the “Davis” case to that of Siddiqi, suggesting that the American should be similarly punished. A New York court last fall sentenced the alleged al-Qaeda sympathizer to 86 years in prison.
Others are suggesting that the Pakistani government should negotiate a Siddiqui-“Davis” exchange.
Prime Minister Yousef Reza Gilani in a speech to lawmakers last September called Siddiqi “the daughter of the nation” and vowed to spare no effort to have her returned to Pakistan.