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India Rebels Kill Hostage Militants Decapitate Norwegian Tourist, Threaten Spokane Man, Other Hostages

Kashmiri rebels decapitated a Norwegian tourist they had kidnapped a month ago and threatened Sunday to kill their four other hostages - including Spokane neuropsychologist Donald Hutchings - unless India frees 15 jailed militants.

A group of women who had gone to fetch water Sunday morning found the body of Hans Christian Ostro near a canal in the Himalayan village of Seer, police said. The name of the separatist group, Al-Faran, was carved on his chest with a knife.

His head was found later, 40 yards away.

The militants left a note in Ostro’s shirt pocket threatening to kill the other hostages - who also include a German and two Britons - unless their comrades are released, police said.

“We have killed the hostage because the government has failed to accept our demands,” the note read. “In 48 hours, if our demands are not met, the other hostages will meet the same fate.”

Indian officials have refused to consider a swap.

“We’re very much alarmed,” Hutchings’ aunt, Ila Adler, said in Yakima. “None of those people deserve this. That poor man, Hans Christian Ostro - it just makes you sick the way they did it, beheaded him.”

Ostro, 27, of Oslo, was one of six Himalayan trekkers kidnapped in early July in a tourist region 40 miles south of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir.

Hutchings’ wife, 40-year-old Jane Schelly of Spokane, was held briefly but was released. Hutchings and Schelly are avid mountain climbers.

Hutchings, a longtime Spokane resident whose father lives in Coeur d’Alene, taught classes for the Spokane Mountaineers Club.

The village of Seer, where Ostro’s body was discovered, is about 30 miles south of where Hutchings and the other hikers last were seen.

Muslim militant groups have been fighting since 1989 for the independence of Jammu-Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in mostly Hindu India. At least 12,000 people have been killed.

Some rebel groups recently have begun to kidnap Westerners, although three incidents in the past year have ended with the hostages being released unharmed. An Israeli was killed in a gunfight when he resisted an abduction attempt in 1992.

Al-Faran was unknown until it claimed responsibility for last month’s kidnappings.

Hutchings, 42, and John Childs, 41, of Simsbury, Conn., were kidnapped July 4 along with two Britons: Paul Wells, 23, of London, and Keith Mangan, 33, of Middlesbrough.

Childs escaped four days later - the same day Ostro and Dirk Hasert, 26, of Erfert, Germany, were abducted.

In an audio tape released Aug. 5, Hutchings said he had been shot during an attack on the rebels by Indian soldiers and that Mangan had a broken leg.

Two photos accompanying the tape showed Hutchings and Mangan swathed in bloodstained bandages, lying on the floor of a hut.

India denies the attack occurred.

Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao condemned the killing and said his government would continue efforts to win release of the other hostages.

Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ingvard Havnen told Norwegian Radio: “What is important now is that those who are responsible for this act have to answer for it.”

U.S. Embassy spokesman Joe Bookbinder said Al-Faran is solely to blame “for this barbaric act of violence” and called on the group to “release the remaining hostages immediately and unconditionally.”

Indian officials say Al-Faran is a unit of the Harkat ul-Ansar, which first appeared in June 1994 when it abducted two British hikers in the same area.

Those hostages were freed unharmed after 17 days.

Harkat ul-Ansar, based in Pakistan, was put on the U.S. State Department list of international terrorist organizations this year.

Pakistan condemned the killing of Ostro, and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto made a personal appeal for the unconditional release of those still in custody, said Najmuddin Sheikh, a top Foreign Ministry official in Islamabad.

In Urdu-language newspaper advertisements, relatives of the hostages appealed over the weekend for their release “in the name of Allah.”

Some leading Kashmiri militants, including Mohammed Yasin Malik, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, also appealed to Al-Faran to let the foreigners go.

Pakistan, a mostly Muslim country, has fought two wars with India over Kashmir, and it is divided between them by a cease-fire line.

Pakistan reportedly finances and trains militant groups who want Jammu-Kashmir to become part of neighboring Pakistan.

Other rebel groups want the state to become an independent country.