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Kashmiri Rebels Extend Hostage Deadline Beheading Of Norwegian Sparks Widespread Condemnation

The anti-India Kashmiri rebels who are holding four Western hostages extended on Tuesday a deadline for their slaying by one day, officials here said.

The original deadline was Tuesday, India’s Independence Day.

The postponement came after widespread condemnation of the killing of a fifth hostage, Hans Christian Ostro of Norway, whose decapitated body was found at a village southwest of here on Sunday. An autopsy report from New Delhi said Ostro had been hit on the back of his head with a blunt instrument and decapitated.

Direct contacts between an official mediator and the rebel group, Al Faran, resumed on Tuesday for the second straight day, Indian security officials said, but they remained inconclusive.

The group was unknown until last month, when it seized the Norwegian and the four other tourists - Americans Donald Hutchings, 42, of Spokane, and John Childs, 41, of Simsbury, Conn., and Britons Paul Wells, 23, of London, and Keith Mangan, 33, of Middlesbrough - and demanded the release of 22 militants held in Indian prisons.

Al Faran has scaled down the demand to the release of 15 prisoners. Although the position of New Delhi is that it will not consider a swap of prisoners, senior security officials here pointed out on Tuesday that courts had freed militants in the past after reviewing their cases.

Concern mounted here over the safety of the surviving hostages amid reports that the kidnappers were angered by the call by the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organization of Kashmiri militant groups, for a general strike today to denounce the kidnappings.

A senior anti-India figure in the separatist movement said he had received an angry phone call from a man who identified himself as a member of Al Faran.

The man called himself Dawood and said he was calling from Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, according to Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the chief of the Jamaat i-Islami Party.

“We will show you,” Geelani quoted Dawood as saying before the caller abruptly ended the conversation.

Bursts of gunfire crackled in Srinagar on Tuesday night along with the sounds of a few explosions. Details of the incidents were not immediately available, but they followed a brief and peaceful Independence Day ceremony at the Bakshi Stadium here on Tuesday morning held under heavy security and before a thin crowd of about 350 people.


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