Kashmir paralysed by strike

Hostage crisis: Kidnappers' murder of Norwegian sparks protest by secessionists seeking international support for their cause


Anantnag, Kashmir

The notice from Al-Faran was taped on a wall in a part of Anantnag town where Indian soldiers are warned not to go. A gang of young Kashmiri militants holding pistols lazed in an alley beside the latest angry message from the militant group of kidnappers who are threatening to kill two Britons, an American and a German.

"Westerners are enemies of Islam," the message said. It jeered at those Kashmiris who protested against Al-Faran for killing "a Jew", even though the foreign tourist, Hans Ostro, whom the kidnappers murdered by cutting his throat on Sunday, was Norwegian.

After a strike call by prominent Kashmiri clergymen and secessionist leaders to protest against the Norwegian's killing, life in this Himalayan valley came to a standstill yesterday. Shops were shuttered, no buses ran and men huddled beside their hookah pipes to share thoughts as to why, for the first time since a Muslim revolt erupted in Indian-administered Kashmir six years ago, the secessionists have declared a general strike against fellow rebels.

Someone pasted up Al-Faran's jeering message - the first since Ostro's killing - early yesterday in a main thoroughfare of Anantnag. One young Kashmiri said nervously: "Al-Faran told us to keep our shops open, but we didn't."

Yet none of the Kashmiris gathered at this cross-roads, even the teenage gunmen who were militant rivals of Al-Faran, dared to tear down the crude photocopied poster.

Kashmiris are worried that Al-Faran's barbarism might lose them international sympathy for their freedom struggle against India. Some insurgents are going so far to distance themselves from Al-Faran that they accuse the kidnappers of being "Indian mercenaries".

Criticising the strike yesterday, Al-Faran militants said: "We ourselves know what we have to do. We don't need to be taught lessons by anyone."

A bearded young commander, armed with both pistol and an assault rifle, from the most powerful rebel group, Hezbul-Mujaheddin, said from inside a Srinagar safe house: "All of our units are under orders to find Al-Faran and do what we can to free the foreigners, but so far no one's found anything. None of us had ever heard of Al-Faran before this kidnapping. Our militants say that even in the countryside, up in the mountains, none of the villagers has seen them. It's strange."

A deadline set by Al-Faran threatening to kill the remaining four hostages passed yesterday with no word from the abductors other than a message viciously attacking the other secessionist groups, accusing them of being "pro-American". The rebels said ominously that they would report on the tourists' state within the next few days. The two kidnapped Britons are Keith Mangan, 33, from Tooting, south London, and Paul Wells, 23, from Nottingham. They and the other two were seized six weeks ago while on trekking holidays in the Himalayas.

In the latest contact with Al-Faran yesterday, the Indian negotiators reportedly demanded proof that the four tourists are still alive before New Delhi agrees to release 15 jailed Kashmiri rebel commanders in exchange for them.

Negotiators in Srinagar are still waiting to hear if Al-Faran has agreed to satisfy the Indian demand for proof. It is feared that the abductors might choose one of the two Britons as the next victim.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine