ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Legal analysts in Pakistan’s government widely believe that an American detained in the killing of two Pakistanis has diplomatic immunity but that a court should decide his fate, an official said Tuesday. The announcement reflected an apparent bid to open the way to the man’s release while dampening public outrage.
Raymond Allen Davis has been held by Pakistani authorities since he fatally shot two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore on Jan. 27. His case has become a bitter point of contention between Washington and Islamabad, whose relationship is considered key to ending the war in Afghanistan.
The United States says Mr. Davis, a former Special Forces soldier and an embassy worker, shot in self-defense when two armed men on a motorcycle tried to rob him and that his detention is illegal under international agreements covering diplomats. U.S. officials have threatened to withhold billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan unless Mr. Davis is freed.
U.S. pressure increased Tuesday when President Obama called for Mr. Davis‘ immediate release and Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, arrived in Pakistan to discuss the case with senior officials.
Pakistani government officials had avoided a definitive stand on Mr. Davis‘ legal status in the face of popular anger over the shootout.
Thousands have rallied against Mr. Davis, demanding he be hanged, while the Taliban has threatened attacks against any Pakistani official involved in freeing the 36-year-old Virginia native.
It hasn’t helped that the government of Punjab province, where any trial would be held, is run by a party that is a rival to the one running the federal government.
Aslam Tareen, police chief in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, declared last week that a police investigation determined that Mr. Davis had committed “an intentional and cold-blooded murder.”
Police officers determined that the pistol of one of the slain men was loaded but no round was in the chamber, and that the American fatally shot the second Pakistani in the back as he tried to flee, Chief Tareen said.
However, a Pakistani federal official told the Associated Press that after reviewing the matter, most of those in Pakistan’s legal and foreign offices think Mr. Davis is immune from prosecution. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity.
The government is expected to give documents laying out the opinions to the Lahore High Court during a hearing about Mr. Davis‘ status on Thursday.
The Pakistani government has said it will abide by whatever the courts decide on Mr. Davis‘ immunity.
The Obama administration asked Mr. Kerry to make the trip amid the deterioration in relations between Washington and Islamabad over the Davis case, according to a congressional official in Washington who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the visit publicly.
The official said Mr. Kerry did not make the trip to bring Mr. Davis back to the United States and there was no expectation that he would do so because the Pakistanis have made clear that Mr. Davis will not be released in the short term, or at least until the court case against him is resolved.
Mr. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “is there to tone down the rhetoric and reaffirm our partnership,” the official said.