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CIA man escapes Pakistan death case

Pakistan has abruptly freed an American CIA contractor who shot and killed two men in a gunfight in Lahore after a deal was sealed to pay 2.34 million US dollars (£1.5 million) in "blood money" to the men's families.

The agreement, nearly seven weeks after the shootings, ended a tense showdown between allies that had threatened to disrupt their fight against terrorism.

In what appeared to be a carefully choreographed conclusion to the diplomatic crisis, a US official said Pakistan had paid the families whose pardoning of Raymond Davis set the stage for his release.

That arrangement allowed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to say in a news conference that the US had not paid compensation. But the American government "expects to receive a bill at some point", said an official.

Under negotiations to free Davis, the US Embassy in Lahore said the Justice Department had opened an investigation into the January 27 shootings.

The deal to secure Davis' release had been in the works for some time, with the most intense negotiations over the past three weeks, another US official said.

The arrangement deliberately bypassed the question of whether Davis was immune from prosecution through diplomatic status, the official said. He release was negotiated under Islamic sharia law, outside the jurisdiction of the police and court system that held him on suspicion of murder.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said Davis was charged with murder in a court that was convened in a prison in Lahore, but was immediately pardoned by the families of the victims after the payment.

Davis, 36, left the country immediately for Kabul in neighbouring Afghanistan, where he was expected to be debriefed extensively about his time in custody.

Davis said he had acted in self-defence when he killed the two men on the street in Lahore. The US government initially said he was a consular or embassy official, but later acknowledged he was working for the CIA, confirming suspicions in the Pakistani media. He was working as a security contractor, protecting other CIA employees as they gathered intelligence, officials say.

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