Kashmiri separatists who beheaded a Norwegian hostage threatened Friday to kill their four other Western captives unless India agrees by today to free 15 imprisoned guerrillas.
The deadline came in a handwritten note to local newspapers four days after the militants broke off negotiations with the government.
It was the first deadline set by the kidnappers since they executed Hans Christian Ostro, a Norwegian tourist, three weeks ago.
The statement warned that “by Saturday evening, the government should announce the release of those demanded. If not, the hostages will be killed.”
It said that if the government announced its acceptance, the kidnappers would reestablish contact and “then we can talk about an exchange of prisoners.”
The little-known Al-Faran rebel group kidnapped six Westerners in the Himalayan mountains of Jammu-Kashmir more than two months ago. An American, John Childs, escaped soon after being captured. Ostro’s decapitated body was found on Aug. 13.
Al-Faran has repeatedly threatened to kill the four other hostages - Spokane psychologist Donald Hutchings, 42, two Britons and a German - unless India frees 15 jailed militants. India has refused, saying it would lead to more kidnappings.
Hutchings’ wife, Jane Schelly, an elementary school physical education teacher, has been waiting in New Delhi for his release.
Militants in Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, have been fighting for independence from mostly Hindu India since 1989. More than 12,000 people have been killed.