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HVK Archives: The terror network (Hostage in Kashmir - Part II of IV)

The terror network (Hostage in Kashmir - Part II of IV) - The Sunday Observer

Kim Housego ()
24-30 August 1997

Title: The terror network (Hostage in Kashmir - Part II of IV)
Author: Kim Housego
Publication: The Sunday Observer
Date: August 24-30, 1997

In the second of his four-part series on Kashmir (the first appeared on 10
August), Kim Housego reveals how he learnt in captivity the truth about

It was the fanaticism of my kidnappers that scared me. Their blind
obedience to the commanders of the Islamic revolution made them capable of
virtually anything. Waheed, a university-educated mercenary, would tell us,
"I have left my family in the hands of God, and I have no fear of death,
for Allah will protect me. When we have won in Kashmir I will go to Bosnia."

He would boast about how many soldiers, Russian and Indian, he had killed.
They became angry when we once shaved. "Why do you' shave? Your prophet
(Christ) had a beard." There were also a number of local Kashmiris in the
group, younger, less professional, and poorly equipped. The youngest,
nicknamed Commando, was only 16, the same age as I was at the time.

My abductors, I later found out, were members of the Harkat-ul-Ansar, the
Movement of the Supporters of the Prophet, a militant Islamist group
fighting to unite Kashmir with Pakistan. Not the largest group operating in
the Kashmir valley, it is nevertheless reputed for its ruthlessness - and
also its resources, drawn from businessmen in Pakistan and the Middle East.

The HuA was founded in Faisalabad, in central Pakistan, in the early 1980s,
originally to help Afghan mujahideen fight the Russians. Its leadership,
by no means clearly defined, is based in Muzaffarabad, the capital of
Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and consists of a central Majlis-e-Shoura
(supreme body) of 11 people, currently headed by Quari Saiffullah Akhtar.
It is claimed that the HuA receives direct support in weapons and training
from the Pakistan Army's Inter-Service Intelligence, which wields
significant influence over the group. But the ISI denies any connection.

I had learnt through debriefings and my own research that AI-Faran was
Harkat-ul-Ansar operating under another name - a cover used to avoid
unfavourable publicity and isolation even as they pursued their goal of
obtaining the release of their commanders held in Indian prisons. I had
also learnt from two separate intelligence agencies that the current
hostages had followed the same route as we did. The route follows a trail
down the Warvan valley, in central Kashmir. They were also held for two
months in the same forest resthouse, on the edge of a village called
Sukhnoi, where we had been kept for three days - strong evidence that at
least some of the militants were involved in the two actions.

As I began to compare what had happened to me with what was happening to
the hostages still held, it seemed that the killing of Hans Ostro had
opened a new chapter in the group's handling of Western hostages. They had
crossed a dangerous border between kidnapping and murder. I wondered what
could have led to such a dramatic change. The year before they presented
us with souvenirs on our release. Now they had shown a very different face,
in murdering one of their captives.

Unanswered questions pushed me, to chase some leads. These were inevitably
to take me back to Kashmir. Some people warned me against returning. There
was no guarantee I could get nearer the truth. All I had to go on were
various clues, and the hope that those I met would be more willing to open
up to me than they would be to others.

An independent Indian television channel, TVI, had proposed a documentary,
and I arrived in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, with a television crew
in November 1996.

As my adrenalin rose, I felt a mixture of apprehension, excitement, and
curiosity. The state authorities had been informed of our visit. We had
been assigned a bullet-proof car and an escort - a security measure that
proved a mixed blessing. It attracted unnecessary attention and made us a
target for attack. My first priority was to get to Anantnag, the main town
in south Kashmir, and one of the strongholds of the Harkat-ul-Ansar.

(to be continued)
(Courtesy: Kashmir Today)

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