Kashmiri rebels holding four Western hostages said Friday that one of them is critically ill and his relatives should return to India prepared to collect his body.
The Al-Faran separatist group - which has held an American, two Britons and a German captive since early July - didn’t say which hostage was ill or what had left him in critical condition.
Friends of Spokane psychologist Donald Hutchings, who is one of the hostages, said they had heard nothing to indicate whether the rebels were talking about him. Hutchings’ wife, Jane Schelly, has so far refused to comment on the crisis, except to issue a plea that all hostages be released.
Earlier Al-Faran statements have said that the Hutchings, 42, and one of the two British hostages were seriously ill. But there has been no independent confirmation of those claims.
The militants also have summoned Kashmiri doctors to their Himalayan hideouts to treat the captives several times.
“The ailing hostage is critical and could die at any time,” Al-Faran said in a statement delivered to reporters in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state in northern India.
“The relatives of the ailing tourist are being advised to reach Srinagar as soon as possible so that in case of his death the corpse can be handed over to them,” it said.
The statement once again criticized India for refusing to free six militants that Al-Faran has named. That is the condition it set to free the four Westerners, who were kidnapped while trekking in the Himalayan foothills of southern Jammu-Kashmir.
The wives and girlfriends of the four captives stayed in India for months issuing statements asking Al-Faran to free the hostages. But they returned home Oct. 26 when their pleas and efforts by Indian negotiators failed to make any progress.
Besides Hutchings, the captives are Dirk Hasert, 26, of Erfurt, Germany; Keith Mangan, 33, of Middlesbrough, England; and Paul Wells, 23, of London. Al-Faran decapitated a fifth hostage, a Norwegian, soon after the kidnappings began. A sixth one, John Childs of Simsbury, Conn., escaped in July.