A Kashmiri separatist group on Friday repeated its claim that four Western tourists it kidnapped nine months ago are in the captivity of Indian security forces.
In a statement sent to local newspaper offices in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state, the Al Faran group said the hostages, including a Spokane man, were captured by government forces during a raid on its hideout on Dec. 8 in Kashmir, Press Trust of India news agency said.
The government denies the Al Faran claim and says the hostages are with the abductors.
The separatist group appealed to Amnesty International and the Red Cross to intervene and seek the Western tourists’ release from the Indian government.
The hostages are Spokane psychologist Donald Hutchings, 42; Dirk Hasert, 26, of Germany, Keith Mangan, 33, of Middlesbrough, England, and Paul Wells, 23, of London. A Norwegian hostage was decapitated a few days after the abduction.
“We have already explained that the four hostages were snatched from us by the security forces when they used force on Dec. 8 at Dabran-Anantnag (in Kashmir),” Al Faran said.
The Al Faran statement came in response to a fresh appeal on Thursday by friends and relatives of the hostages for their release.
The previously unknown Al Faran group kidnapped them last July to draw attention to its campaign for independence from India.
“It is in the interest of Kashmir’s reputation of hospitality and nice behavior that the four tourists should be released,” said a joint statement by Jane Schelly, Kathrine Moezlee, Julie Mangan and Eene Kathrine.
The joint appeal was released by the the United States, British and German embassies in New Delhi. The friends and relatives of the hostages returned to their countries last year after waiting in Srinagar and New Delhi for four months for their release.
The government says it has information that the four hostages are unharmed in hideouts of the militants.