Transcripts show Kashmir gang is `not afraid to die'

Tim McGirk New Delhi
Wednesday 20 September 1995 23:02

For nearly three months, the Britons Keith Mangan and Paul Wells, along with their fellow German and American hostages, have faced the dreadful uncertainty that they could have only a few hours - or even minutes - to live before their Kashmir captors slaughtered them.

Just how close death hangs over the four hostages is revealed in a tape- recording of the often heated conversations between Indian negotiators and the Faran kidnappers. Obtained by a news magazine, India Today, the transcripts not only lay bare the kidnappers' ruthlessness - they earlier beheaded a Norwegian captive - but also show what little bargaining space the Indian authorities and Western diplomats have to secure the hostages' freedom.

Indian officials are worried that the transcripts give away too much of their strategy in dealing with the kidnappers, putting the hostages in peril.

It is thought that rivalry between the military, intelligence and the police in Kashmir might have caused the leak.

On 1 September, after Al-Faran put their American captive, Donald Hutchings, on the radio to prove that the four men were still alive by giving personal details, such as where Paul Wells and his girlfriend, Catherine, had their first date, a spokesman from Al-Faran rang and spoke impatiently to the Indian negotiator, Rajinder Tikoo.

"What have you done about our demands?" the spokesman asked angrily.

"Listen to me, friend," said Mr Tikoo. "You have no idea of how governments function. Why don't you speak to me tomorrow evening and by then ..."

"It can't be done," the rebel interrupted. "I've told you, we know how to kill. Last time you found the body [of the Norwegian]. This time we'll throw the bodies at such a place you won't even be able to find them."

Mr Tikoo replied: "Don't do that. Look up, Allah is also listening to you ... Why don't you call me on the telephone tomorrow? By then I may have some news."

"This will not happen at any cost. I am telling you, the decision has been taken. We are going to kill them."

India Today said the Indian government, following advice from anti-terrorist experts from Scotland Yard and the FBI, told their negotiator to stall by refusing to give an exact date for the release of jailed Kashmir militants demanded by Al-Faran. This change of tactic rattled the abductors.

In one angry exchange, the Al-Faran leader said: "We are not scared of an [rescue] operation. We are prepared to die. We know how to meet death. What's it to us? Those four will also die in the process."

One ominous refrain echoes throughout Al-Faran's menaces: unless their demands are met, the militants intend to murder their captives and disappear without ever telling the authorities. "You will not even find their ashes," Al-Faran warned. Indian authorities say they are still in daily telephone contact with Al-Faran. But for the past 11 days officials have lost direct radio contact with the gunmen who are actually holding the tourists. The negotiator was told this was because Al-Faran has moved beyond radio range, over 14,000ft mountain ridges, into the Wadwan valley.

But it is also possible Al-Faran might have finally realised India never intends to free the imprisoned militants, and decided to kill the hostages.

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