Did pro-India militias kill Western tourists in Kashmir?
A government human rights commission in Kashmir on Tuesday evening said it will review records from the 1995 abduction of Western tourists after a new book claimed that four of six foreign tourists were murdered by a pro-India militia to discredit India’s arch-rival Pakistan.
On July 4, 1995, Americans Donald Hutchings and John Childs, as well as Britons Paul Wells and Keith Mangan were kidnapped by the little known Al-Faran militant group while trekking in the Himalayas near Pahalgam, 97 km (60 miles) southeast of Srinagar.
Four days later, Childs escaped. On the same day, the captors abducted German Dirk Hasert and Norwegian Hans Christian Ostroe. Ostroe was found beheaded in August 1995. The others were never found.
Journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, whose book “The Meadow: Kashmir 1995 – Where the Terror Began” is about the abduction, claim that the four Westerners were murdered by a pro-government militia group who worked for Indian security forces.
After Ostroe was beheaded, Al-Faran was ready to strike a monetary deal to free the hostages and might have released them for £250,000, the authors claim. They say the deal was deliberately sabotaged.
“It appeared that there were some in the Indian establishment who did not want this never-ending bad news story of Pakistani cruelty and Kashmiri inhumanity to end, even when the perpetrators themselves were finished,” the book says.
Al-Faran then demanded the release of 21 prisoners, including Masood Azhar and Omar Sheikh, who were freed by the Indian government after the hijack of an Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu in 1999.
The book claims a pro-government militia leader, Alpha, or Azad Nabi, alias Ghulam Nabi Mir, who used to be in Anantnag area of south Kashmir, had “bought” the four Western hostages from Al-Faran and held them for months before shooting them.
The investigators became convinced a pro-government militia group had control of the four Westerners after Al-Faran dropped them, according to the authors, quoting the Jammu and Kashmir police’s crime branch squad.
“The squad reported some of its thoughts to its seniors, using these kinds of words, ‘Sikander’s men handed over Paul, Dirk, Keith and Don to Alpha’s renegades in the third of fourth week of November, around the time when the final sightings dried up. Sikander has given up. Al-Faran is finished. Embarrassingly, India controls the renegades.’”
Quoting a crime branch detective, the book claims that the Indian government had not wanted the hostage crisis to end.
India authorities then said Al-Faran, which claimed responsibility for the abductions, was part of the Harkat-ul-Ansar militant group. But Harkat denied any ties with Al-Faran.
The U.S. state department later listed Harkat-ul-Ansar as one of 30 “foreign terrorist organisations” for which it is illegal to raise funds in the United States. It also bars visits by members or representatives of the groups.
The fresh demand for a probe into the hostage taking comes after a Kashmir-based human rights group requested the region’s State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping and subsequent killing of the four Western tourists.