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US consulate man held after two Pakistanis are shot dead

Police in Lahore were last night investigating an incident in which a US consulate employee apparently shot dead two armed men who approached his car while he parked at a busy junction.

American officials said investigators had taken the man into custody after the incident, in which a pedestrian was also killed by a second US vehicle that sped to the scene to help the diplomat. Angry crowds quickly gathered and burnt tyres.

Last night, Alberto Rodriguez, a spokesman for the US embassy in Islamabad, said the circumstances of the incident remained unclear. "We are working with the Pakistani authorities to find out what happened," he said. "We are still waiting to find out what will happen to the man."

Reports suggest the incident happened as the consulate official was in his car close to Mozang Chowk, one of the city's busiest roundabouts, when the two men approached him on a motorbike. Police said the American told them that one of the men took out a gun and pointed it at him. A senior police officer later told a television channel the American had a security role at the consulate.

"The American national told us he was driving his vehicle and stopped at a traffic signal. He saw motorcycle riders and one pulled out a pistol. The man told us he then pulled out his pistol and fired in self-defence," Aslam Tarin, Lahore's police chief, told Agence France-Presse. "He's an American national. He's in our custody and we are investigating."

Police will want to know why the employee was carrying a weapon, apparently a Beretta pistol, and whether he was authorised to do so. Questions will also be asked as to why he was not travelling with a security escort.

Investigators will also wish to determine the identity of the two gunmen and whether they were simply trying to rob the American or if their aim was something more sinister. Along with US security officials, police will also make an assessment as to whether other consulate employees might be at risk.

Whatever the formal outcome of the investigation, the incident will almost certainly trigger further anti-Americanism within certain sections of Pakistani society. Internet messageboards were last night filled with comments about the killing, some of them suggesting the police will take no action against the consulate employee. Several dozen people gathered outside a police station where the American was being held and burnt tyres.

Television footage from the scene of the shooting showed what was said to be the man's car, which had a number of bullet holes in its front windscreen. It also showed one of the gunmen, lying next to a motorbike on the road.