A jailed Kashmiri separatist leader ordered his followers to kill Spokane psychologist Donald Hutchings and three other Western hostages unless he and his imprisoned associates are freed, a newspaper reported Friday.
The written note from Sajjad Afgani was intercepted by India’s Intelligence Bureau and never reached the kidnappers, the report in the Asian Age newspaper said. The note was sent through an intermediary Sept. 5 from New Delhi’s maximum security Tihar Prison, it added.
A Jammu-Kashmir state government spokesman said he did not know of any communication between Afgani and the kidnappers, who have been holding the four tourists hostage for the past 10 weeks.
“This is news to us, and we are not aware of our intelligence agencies intercepting such an order,” spokesman Kulbhusan Jandial told reporters in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state.
Those being held are Hutchings, 42; two Britons, Keith Mangan, 33, and Paul Wells, 23; and Dirk Hasert, 26, of Germany.
Another American escaped soon after being seized and a Norwegian captive was killed by the militants.
Asian Age, which is published in London and New Delhi, said Afgani told the kidnappers to kill one of the Britons first, then, if the Indian government still refused to free the jailed separatists, to kill the rest.
The rebels have demanded the release of 15 jailed comrades. But India has refused, saying that would lead to more terrorism and kidnappings.
Indian officials believe the kidnappers’ little-known Al-Faran group is a front organization of Harkat ulAnsar, an Islamic fundamentalist group based in Pakistan. Afgani holds a Pakistani passport.
The newspaper said after authorities intercepted the letter, they asked Afghani to tell the kidnappers to release the captives, but he refused.
Hutchings and his wife, Jane Schelly, were on a 5-week trip to Asia when they were kidnapped on July 4. Schelly was released the next day and has remained in India.