Pakistani Police: U.S. Employee Kills 2 Gunmen
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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
There was a strange occurrence today in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. According to police, an employee with the U.S. consulate shot and killed two suspected gunmen as they approached his car on a congested street.
NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from Islamabad that the facts are still being established but the incident is likely to aggravate anti-American sentiments in Pakistan.
JULIE MCCARTHY: The American consulate employee, whose name has not been released by the U.S. Embassy, told eyewitnesses that he fired his pistol in self defense.
Local police, reconstructing the scene, say that the American had been driving alone through central Lahore in an unmarked Honda Civic. Two men on a motorcycle approached his car.
Police Officer Umar Sayeed(ph) said, based on eyewitness accounts, the American began shooting after one of the men pointed a gun at him.
One theory is that the motorcyclists were street robbers, and that this incident was an attempted robbery gone bad. Police say scores of similar attacks take place daily on the streets of Lahore, a city of an estimated 10 million people that sits near the Indian border. Foreigners would be perceived as lucrative targets in this economically distressed country.
The incident is likely to stoke even deeper anti-American anger here. Retired Pakistani Ambassador Zafar Hilali says using this as a pretext to stir emotions against the United States would be a serious misreading of the facts as they are known so far.
ZAFAR HILALI: There will always be elements who will try and play it up and take advantage of it and make it into an anti- American thing. Yes, of course there will be. But I don't think that the mass, the thinking public will give it another thought. I mean, he acted within his rights, if indeed what happened is what he said happened.
MCCARTHY: But there was a third death by the time the incident played out. Local media report that the American called colleagues for help immediately after the shooting. Eyewitnesses told police that a second vehicle sped to the scene, an SUV, and ran over a pedestrian. Obaid ur-Rehman was the third fatality of the day.
The American involved in the fatal shooting was taken for questioning. Families of two of the dead men have registered formal complaints with police, the first step in a criminal proceeding here.
International relations professor Rasul Bakhsh Rais(ph) says news organizations have given sensational coverage to the event, and are likely to fuel public anti-U.S. rage.
RASUL BAKHSH RAIS: And I don't think they are using their power with responsibility at all, because the tilt that they have given to the story has already loaded the public sentiment against the American.
MCCARTHY: With the State Department worried about fallout from the shooting, Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. understood the sensitivities.
CROWLEY: We want to make sure that a tragedy like this does not affect the strategic partnership that we're building with Pakistan. And we'll work as hard as we can to explain that to the Pakistan people.
MCCARTHY: A small demonstration at the site of the shooting erupted this evening to protest the killings, as investigators worked into the night to determine exactly what happened.
Julie McCarthy NPR News, Islamabad.
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