Who killed four foreign tourists in Kashmir in 1995?
Given below is the text of a petition submitted to the Jammu & Kashmir State Human Rights Commission by the INTERNATIONAL PEOPLE’S TRIBUNAL ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND JUSTICE IN INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR (IPTK) together with the ASSOCIATION OF PARENTS OF DISAPPEARED PERSONS. A Division Bench of the SHRC will hear the case on 17 April
Mr. Tariq Ahmad Banday,
Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission,
Date: 6 April 2012
Dear Mr. Banday,
The International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir [IPTK] (a brief on the Tribunal’s premise and objectives may be found here) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons [APDP], present before you the following submission:
- In July 1995, during a trekking expedition, six persons were reportedly kidnapped by a group that referred to itself as “Al-Faran” [a front of the Harkat-ul-Ansar]. The six persons kidnapped were: John Childs [Simsbury, Connecticut, USA], Dirk Hasert [Bad Langensalza, Germany], Don Hutchings [Spokane, Washington State, USA], Keith Mangan [Teesside, Middlesbrough, England], Hans Christian Ostrø [Oslo, Norway], and Paul Wells [Blackburn, Lancashire, England].
- Don Hutchings, Keith Mangan, Paul Wells, and John Childs were kidnapped on 4 July 1995.
- Following the incident, it has been ascertained, that government authorities made no attempts to dissuade foreign or local trekkers from visiting Pahalgam or adjoining areas.
- John Childs was able to escape on 8 July 1995.
- Dirk Hasert and Hans Christian Ostrø were kidnapped on 8 July 1995.
- First Information Reports [FIR numbers 66/1995 and 67/1995] were filed at the Pahalgam Police Station.
- The victims, it has been ascertained, were kidnapped by Javid Ahmed Bhat [alias “Sikander”], Abdul Hamid al-Turki [alias “the Turk”], Nabeel Ghazni, Abu Khalifa, and others.
- The kidnappers demanded the release of 21 persons including Maulana Masood Azhar, Sajjad Shahid Khan [alias “the Afghani”], and Nasrullah Mansoor Langrial [alias “Darwesh”].
- Hans Christian Ostro’s dead body was found on 13 August 1995 in the Shael Dar forest, in the north-east of Anantnag District.
- Inspector General Rajinder Tikoo, the Crime Branch Chief, and negotiator with “Al Faran”, reached a deal, for the release of the victims, with the person negotiating on behalf of “Al Faran” [who referred to himself as “Jehangir”] on 17 September 1995 for one crore rupees. But, by 18 September 1995, the news leaked to the media, due to which the deal fell through.
- On 4 December 1995, the Rashtriya Rifles carried out an operation close to Dabran village, Anantnag District, where three foreign insurgents: Nabeel Ghazni, Abu Khalifa, and Abdul Hamid al-Turki [alias “the Turk”] were killed and two local militants were captured.
- Javid Ahmed Bhat [alias “Sikander”] died on 17 February 1996 in a bomb blast that was claimed as accidental by the army.
- On 3 June 1996, based on information that the four kidnapped persons had been shot dead on 13 December 1995 at Magam, a search for the bodies of the victims was conducted at Magam. The bodies were not found.
- In October 1996, then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah informed the family members of the kidnapped persons that met with him that there were “certain things” he was unable to state on record, but, that in ten days they would be offered proof that the kidnapped persons were alive.
- In November 1997, Bob Wells, the father of Paul Wells [one of the kidnapped], met with the Inspector General of Kashmir Zone, Paramdeep Singh Gill. Bob Wells was informed that the dead body of Paul Wells had been found as a result of investigations conducted by a special team led by the Inspector General of Kashmir Zone, Paramdeep Singh Gill, and the Superintendent of Police of Anantnag, Ashkoor Wani. In January 2000, Inspector General Gill, stated that scientists at two credible Indian laboratories had concluded that the DNA they tested belonged to Paul Wells. Based on this, Inspector General Gill claimed that the force was now entitled to claim the two million dollar reward from the US Department of Justice and two more rewards of ten lakh rupees each from the US State Department and the Government of Jammu and Kashmir. Three months later, based on independent DNA tests, the British Foreign Office stated that the dead body was not that of Paul Wells. The British Foreign Office suggested that what had been tested in the Indian laboratories might have been the reference sample provided by the Wells family, against which the remains were supposed to have been matched. Whether the two had been switched or accidentally mixed, no one could say.
- The fate of the four kidnapped persons has not been conclusively ascertained to date.
- The family members of the victims of the July 1995 kidnapping have spent close to seventeen years with the anguish of not knowing the fate of their disappeared family members.
- On 29 March 2012, a book titled “The Meadow, Kashmir 1995 – Where the terror began”, published by the Harper Press, by authors Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, was released in the United Kingdom. This book provides the missing information, based on extensive analysis of a Crime Branch investigation that had been carried out on the kidnappings. This book states that the four persons kidnapped had been killed in the remote twin villages of Mati and Gawran, an approximately five hour drive from Anantnag town, on 24 December 1995. Specifically, and as reported by the Asian Age on 3 April 2012, and Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir on 4 April 2012 [Annexure I], the four hostages were shot and buried “a good, hard walk behind the lower village.” Further, the book states the following:
- A Western female trekker had approached the Rashtriya Rifles camp at Chandanwari, Pahalgam, to say she had witnessed the kidnapping of Dirk Hasert. Instead of assisting her, a Rashtriya Rifles Major sexually assaulted her. Senior officers had been sent into the mountains to silence her and investigate the Major.
- The Crime Branch team investigating the case was provided with surveillance images of the victims while they had been hostage. These images were provided to them by the Indian Research and Analysis Wing [RAW]. The Crime Branch team sent an urgent report on this information to their superiors. The intelligence services and the army, while in possession of this information, took no action. Throughout this time, the families of the kidnapped persons were being informed that there was no information on the location of the kidnapped persons. Subsequently, on numerous occasions, false information on sightings of the kidnapped persons was provided to the public and families of the kidnapped persons.
- Ghulam Nabi Mir [alias “Alpha”], a militiaman connected to state agencies, from Shelipora, Anantnag District, had signed a secret ceasefire agreement with Javid Ahmed Bhat [alias “Sikander,” the main abductor] prior to the kidnappings, and was told by his STF, and army and intelligence handlers to pass on weapons and explosives to Javid Ahmed Bhat [alias “Sikander”] and his partners. This was part of a larger plan that used Javid Ahmed Bhat [alias “Sikander”] and his partners against the Hizbul Mujahideen. This was the reason why the pro-government militiamen in the area, who had knowledge of the whereabouts of the kidnappers and the hostages, had not intervened. The police STF, backed by a faction within the Indian Intelligence Agencies, and with the knowledge of counter-insurgency specialists of the Rashtriya Rifles had known about the deal from the very beginning, and in fact, the idea for such a ceasefire agreement had come from the security forces.
- On 1 December 1995 the hostages were handed over by “Al Faran” to Ghulam Nabi Mir [alias “Alpha”] for four lakh rupees.
- The 4 December 1995 operation, where three of the kidnappers were killed and two captured, was an ambush that was set up by Ghulam Nabi Mir [alias “Alpha”] calling Abdul Hamid al-Turki [alias “the Turk”] for a meeting.
- The four kidnapped persons were killed in the remote twin villages of Mati and Gawran [and specifically, behind the lower village], about a five hour drive from Anantnag town, on 24 December 1995. Their bodies were buried in a hole.
- The death of Javid Ahmed Bhat [alias “Sikander”] on 17 February 1996, while alleged to be an accident was in fact a planned operation set up by soldiers and Ghulam Nabi Mir [alias “Alpha”].
- The Crime Branch investigations were closed without being presented before a competent court.
- The authorities, who had knowledge at various times of the location of the kidnapped persons, and ultimately of their burial site, did not intervene for political reasons.
- The disclosures in the recently released book, based on Crime Branch investigations, strongly suggest that the officials of the army and government were deliberately misleading the investigations into the kidnapping and withholding information. More importantly, it appears that a criminal network had been formed with the abductors through the unlawfully supported government militiamen. The killings of the abductors on 4 December 1995 and 17 February 1996 suggest an attempt to cover up the truth behind the kidnappings. The revelations suggest the involvement of the Government of India in the unconstitutional and illicit practice of collaborating with private militias like the ikhwan, Village Defence Committees [VDC’s], and other sub-state groups.
- Based on the research highlighted in the book by Levy and Scott-Clark, it appears that the four kidnapped persons were killed and buried collectively in a mass grave.
- On 5 April 2012, the response to a Right to Information [RTI] application filed regarding Crime Branch investigations on this case states that two FIR’s [66/1995 and 67/1995] were filed at the Pahalgam Police Station and that the investigations were transferred to the Crime Branch for further investigations. On 2 July 2004, after finalizing the investigations and closing the two cases as untraced, the Crime Branch dispatched the case files of the investigations to the Pahalgam Police Station for submission of the final report in the cases before the Court. The cases appear to have been closed, surprisingly nine years after the kidnappings, despite the reported Crime Branch findings on the case, as detailed above.
- On 19 October 2011, the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission [SHRC], after having taken suo-moto cognizance based inter-alia on newspaper reports, passed its final order on the issue of nameless and unmarked graves in Jammu and Kashmir. The SHRC ordered identification of graves and bodies buried [including by the use of all modern scientific techniques and methods] and prosecutions for crimes committed in relation to these graves and bodies buried.
As a part of the ongoing work on the issue of nameless and unmarked graves in Jammu and Kashmir, we request that the case of the four kidnapped persons be considered by the SHRC. Specifically, we request that:
– The Crime Branch investigations and findings pertaining to the July 1995 kidnapping be made public.
– It be ascertained whether a final report was submitted in this case before a competent court, and if not, by whose order such submissions were withheld, and action be initiated against those responsible for suppressing the investigations.
– Investigations be ordered into why after the first kidnappings on 5 July 1995, state authorities made no attempt to dissuade foreign and local trekkers from visiting Pahalgam or adjoining areas, which resulted in the subsequent kidnapping on 8 July 1995.
– Investigations be launched against the then Inspector General of Kashmir Zone, Paramdeep Singh Gill, and the then Superintendent of Police of Anantnag, Ashkoor Wani, to inquire into their role in the manipulation of the DNA tests of Paul Wells, with the apparent objective of making a claim to the award monies, and for their role in a possible cover up, as the mishandling and manipulation of evidence appears to be a pattern in Jammu and Kashmir.
– Investigations be ordered to ascertain under whose orders Ghulam Nabi Mir [alias “Alpha”] operated during the events referred to above, and order prosecutions against any such person or persons identified.
– Investigations be ordered into the operations of 4 December 1995 and 17 February 1996 that appear to be extrajudicial executions.
– Investigations be ordered to identify the grave sites and bodies of the four kidnapped persons, beginning with the site identified by the Crime Branch investigations as per the above mentioned book, at the remote twin villages of Mati and Gawran, and that to assist in these investigations, relevant forensic examinations of the Mati and Gawran area be carried out.
– Comprehensive investigations be ordered into the kidnappings and associated events and killings, and prosecutions launched against all those responsible, including at the highest levels of the army, police, and government, for the crimes committed.
– An inquiry be conducted as to why no action was taken on various points noted above, despite the authorities having knowledge of the location of the hostages, and then subsequently the burial site of the hostages, to ascertain the level of institutional culpability.
Adv. Parvez Imroz, Dr. Angana Chatterji, Zahir-ud-Din, Gautam Navlakha, Khurram Parvez and Adv. Mihir Desai