LAHORE, Pakistan – Hard-line Islamic leaders on Sunday rallied at least 15,000 people against an American official arrested in the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis and warned the government not to cave in to U.S. pressure to release the man.
The protest in the eastern city of Lahore, where the shootings took place, came as the U.S. Embassy once again insisted that the American has diplomatic immunity and was being detained illegally by Pakistan. But Pakistan has refused to budge, saying the matter must be decided by the courts.
“We warn the government and administration that … if they help the arrested American illegally, then this crowd will surround the U.S. Embassy and presidential palace in Islamabad,” Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a senior official in the Jamiat Ulema Islam party, said during Sunday’s rally.
The U.S. has said the American, who has not been named, acted in self-defense when he shot two armed men who approached his car in Lahore on Thursday.
Sunday’s demonstration was organized by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which is widely believed to be a front for the militant group that attacked the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 and killed 166 people.
The rally was originally called to protest changes to Pakistani laws that mandate the death penalty for insulting Islam. But many of the speakers used the opportunity to stoke anger over the recent shootings.
“It should be decided in the courts and any decision beyond the courts will not be acceptable to us. There should be an end to American hegemony in Pakistan,” said the leader of Jamiat Ulema Islam, Maulana Fazlur Rahman.