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Kashmir gang's deadly warning

The Al-Faran guerrillas holding four Western tourists hostage in Kashmir warned yesterday that if the Indian army tried to launch a rescue operation they would kill their captives.

Scotland Yard terrorism experts flew by helicopter over the mountains and dense forests of the Himalayan state to study the possibility of a commando raid to free the four - Britons Keith Mangan, 33, from London and Paul Wells, 23, from Nottingham, and an American and a German. The Indian army was taking advice from nine security advisers who arrived recently in Kashmir from the hostages' home nations.

''We are shocked to hear the Indian government is thinking of a military operation to release the tourists,'' the guerrillas said in a statement in Srinagar. ''If the army tries to attack us, the tourists will be killed.''

The Kashmiri militants and the Indian authorities are both raising the stakes. The body of another hostage, a Norwegian, was found on Sunday. He had been beheaded by Al-Faran.

The guerrillas are demanding the release of 15 of their jailed commanders in return for the hostages' freedom.

India's top two security officials, the Home Secretary, V K Jain, and Ashok Tandon, chief of the elite Black Cap commandos, left Kashmir yesterday to put a proposed rescue plan before the Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao. The officials are to return to Kashmir today. A police source in Kashmir said the ambassadors from Britain, the United States and Germany had all approved the rescue mission.

nGeorge Galloway, Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead, last night demanded that the Foreign Secretary summon the Indian High Commissioner to explain the "exact relationship" between Al-Faran and the Indian government. He made the call after a report in the Herald newspaper suggested an Indian government "dirty tricks" operation could be responsible for the hostages' plight.