March 16 (Bloomberg) -- An American working for the Central Intelligence Agency who was charged with killing two Pakistanis has been freed after relatives of the slain men accepted compensation under Islamic law, an official said.
The trial court in Lahore ordered the release of Raymond Davis, who had been held by police since the shooting in the city on Jan. 27. While the court action fulfills a demand made by the U.S. government, it may lead to protests by conservative religious parties that have vowed to oppose it.
“The legitimate relatives of deceased persons have agreed in front of the judge to forgive Raymond Davis,” Rana Sanaullah, the law minister of Punjab province, said in an interview broadcast by Geo television. “Davis was freed after the exchange of money in the court.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Cairo, told reporters that “the U.S. did not pay compensation” for Davis’s release. Asked whether Pakistan paid the families, Clinton said that was a question for the Pakistani government. She declined to comment further when asked if a third party had paid the families at the U.S.’s behest.
The U.S., Clinton said, is “grateful” that Davis has been freed.
The U.S. demanded Davis’ release, saying he had diplomatic immunity and acted in self-defense during a robbery attempt by two motorcyclists. Police say he murdered men who didn’t intend to kill him. Pakistani law allows murder suspects to be set free if they compensate the heirs of their victims by paying “blood money.” A third Pakistani died when he was struck by a car rushing to aid the American after the incident.
“I don’t think Pakistan could afford to antagonize the U.S., and I don’t think they had any option but to free him,” said Talat Masood, an independent political analyst and retired lieutenant general based in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. “Now the biggest question is how far Pakistan’s religious parties can exploit the issue. After all, an Islamic law was used to settle this issue.”
Police clashed with protesters today outside the U.S. consulate in Lahore, firing tear gas as the demonstrators burned tires, the Associated Press reported.
“We appreciate” decisions by the dead men’s families “that enabled Mister Davis to leave Pakistan and head back home,” Clinton said. The U.S. remains committed to a strategic relationship with Pakistan and is “looking forward to continuing to strengthen it.”
Justice Department Probe
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the shooting incident, Clinton said.
The families of the two men killed were paid $2.3 million, the AP reported, citing a lawyer for the relatives of the Pakistani men.
Davis worked as a security contractor for the CIA, a U.S. official said Feb. 21. He provided security to U.S. personnel in Pakistan, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was pending.
The shootings triggered street protests in Pakistan, where public opposition to U.S. policies is strong. The demonstrations raised pressure on Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, a key U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic extremism. The Lahore police chief had accused Davis of committing “clear-cut murder.”
U.S. President Barack Obama on Feb. 14 said Pakistan mustn’t prosecute Davis and he should be treated as a diplomat. Some U.S. lawmakers this month questioned the wisdom of providing aid to Pakistan as it refused to release Davis. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. told CNBC that Pakistan was committed to finding a legal and diplomatic solution to the case involving Davis.
CIA spokesman George Little, without mentioning Davis’s case, said in an e-mail that “the agency and our Pakistani counterparts have had a strong relationship for years” and that “it’s our standing practice to work through” issues that arise. “That’s the sign of a healthy partnership,” he said.
“This was a very important and necessary step for both of our countries to be able to maintain our relationship and remain focused on progress on bedrock national interests,” said Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Michigan Republican Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was “happy Pakistan has finally done the right thing.” As a diplomat, Davis “should never have been arrested,” Rogers said in a statement. “Irresponsible behavior like this jeopardizes everything our two nations have built together.”
Since the shooting, Islamic religious parties have held weekly protests in Lahore at which their supporters have burned American flags and hung Davis in effigy while demanding he be tried and executed for murder.
Members of the dead men’s families said they had come under pressure from religious or militant parties, including Jamiat-i-Islami and Jamaat ud-Dawa, to refuse any U.S. offer of money to settle the case, according to Arif Jamal, a Pakistani researcher and author on militant groups, in a March 11 article for the Washington-based journal Foreign Policy.
Davis’ release may “risk public protest or even violent backlash,” Jamal wrote.
Pakistan’s fragile economy depends on foreign aid and support by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Obama’s 2012 budget proposes $1.2 billion in assistance for Pakistan, largely to support counterinsurgency training for military posted along the border with Afghanistan.
Davis is a former Special Forces soldier originally from Virginia who spent 10 years in the U.S. Army before leaving in August 2003, the AP reported, citing Defense Department records.
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