The shooting of four Americans caught in a traffic jam was a “target killing” that police strongly suspect was retaliation for the conviction of a Pakistani who killed two CIA employees.
In Virginia, the jury still deciding whether to sentence the Pakistani to death was ordered sequestered to shield it from news reports of Wednesday’s killings in Karachi.
Earlier this week, after convicting Mir Aimal Kasi for the 1993 shootings outside CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., jurors sent the judge a note expressing fear for their safety, a defense attorney said.
The killings of the four Americans - all employees of the Houston-based Union Texas Petroleum - occurred as the black car in which they were riding to work was inching along a bridge in Karachi jammed with school buses.
A red car pulled up behind it and two gunmen in khaki jackets and traditional baggy Pakistani garments leaped out of their vehicle. They strode over to the black car and emptied the clips of their Kalashnikov rifles inside.
After checking to see if all four Americans and their Pakistani driver were dead, the gunmen fled. The gunmen later abandoned their vehicle near Karachi’s central post office and disappeared.
There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, but police have strong suspicions about the motive.
“It is premature to say why they were killed, but there is a strong possibility that it was linked to Kasi’s conviction and sentencing,” Karachi Police Chief Malik Iqbal said Wednesday. “We know it was a target killing. It wasn’t random firing.”
Iqbal said police have a description of the attackers and have begun a manhunt. The Pakistani Cabinet met in an emergency session and named a special investigative panel.
In Washington, President Clinton’s spokesman called the killings “an outrageous act of barbarism.” White House press secretary Mike McCurry stressed, however, that there is no direct evidence of a connection with the CIA case.
Pakistani President Farooq Leghari wrote Clinton to express his shock at what he called a “terrorist” attack on “four innocent U.S. nationals.” The letter was delivered to the U.S. ambassador in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
The slain Americans, all auditors, were identified by Union Texas Petroleum as Ephraim Egbu, senior auditor; Joel Enlow, manager of audit projects; Larry Jennings, audit manager; and Tracy Ritchie, senior audit supervisor.
The bodies of the men, all in their 40s, were to be flown home to Houston today.
McCurry said the killings would not affect plans for Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to visit Pakistan. Clinton’s trip is scheduled for early 1998; Albright is to arrive Sunday.
Kasi, 33, was convicted Monday in a Fairfax, Va., court of first-degree murder for the Jan. 25, 1993, slayings of CIA employees Frank Darling and Lansing Bennett. The two were shot in their cars at a traffic light outside CIA headquarters. Three others were injured.
The jury now is hearing testimony on whether Kasi should get the death penalty.
On Wednesday, Judge J. Howe Brown directed that the six men and six women on the jury be taken to an unidentified location overnight.
The order resulted from his concerns about increased press coverage after the attack in Pakistan, said Jim Vickery, chief deputy sheriff for Fairfax County. He said no threats have been made against the jury.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: THE VICTIMS The four Americans shot and killed in Pakistan worked for Union Texas Petroleum in Houston and lived in the Houston area: Ephraim Egbu, 42, married, father of two daughters, one stepson. Texas Southern University graduate. A senior auditor and 19-year employee. Joel Enlow, 40, married. Grew up in South Carolina. University of South Carolina graduate. An audit manager and 14-year employee. Larry Jennings, 49, married, no children. Memphis, Tenn., native who attended Memphis State. An audit manager and 10-year employee. Tracy Ritchie, 41, married. University of Wyoming graduate. A senior audit supervisor and 15-year employee.