Fears for Britons after rebels behead hostage

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The Independent Online
Kashmiri rebels in the Indian Himalayas yesterday beheaded a Norwegian hostage and vowed "within the next two days" to execute four others - two Britons, a German, and an American - unless India meets their demands to release 15 jailed rebel commanders.

The headless body of Hans Ostro, 27, was found yesterday by women collecting firewood about 30 miles from where the Westerners were abducted by the Al-Faran militant group more than a month ago. The rebels had carved Al- Faran on the dead hostage's belly, with a note which said: "If the Indian government doesn't accept our demands for the release of 15 prisoners immediately, the fate of the other four hostages will be the same."

So far, India has said it would only consider releasing five of the 15 jailed commanders. Privately, Indian officials admit that chances of finding and rescuing the hostages within the next two days are slim. For more than a month, the rebels and their captives have managed to dodge search parties in the mountain ranges and forests of Pahalgam, south Kashmir.

A week ago, the captors released photographs showing two hostages, Keith Mangan, 33, an electrician from Tooting, south London, and Donald Hutchings, an American, swathed in bloody bandages. The rebels said they had been injured in a gun battle between Al-Faran and Indian troops. Indian authorities denied the clash occurred and said the hostages might have been shot by rebels while trying to escape.

The Norwegian foreign ministry in Oslo described Mr Ostro's murder as "a meaningless act of terror" and said it would be punished. The Foreign Office expressed sadness and said Britain was redoubling its efforts with the Indian and other authorities to try to bring about an early release of the remaining hostages. India and Pakistan also condemned the killing, as did several Kashmiri Muslim rebel groups.

Mr Mangan's wife, Julie, along with Catherine Moseley - girlfriend of the other British hostage Paul Wells, 23, a Nottingham student - and companions of the US and German captives yesterday published advertisements in Kashmiri newspapers urging Al- Faran to free the hostages. "These are innocent tourists . . . Please let them go," the appeal said.

Militants' vow, page 8