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Exhumed Body Is of British Hostage, India Confirms

Asia: Paul Wells was among six tourists abducted in Kashmir by militants in 1995. Three others, including an American, are still missing.

January 06, 2000|From Associated Press

JAMMU, India — A body exhumed from northern Kashmir is that of a missing British tourist, authorities said Wednesday. The verification could help police locate an American also missing since being abducted by Islamic militants five years ago.

Police confirmed that the body they brought out of a grave in 1997 is that of one of six foreign tourists who were kidnapped while trekking in the mountains of Kashmir in 1995.

"We have received a report of DNA tests of an exhumed body . . . confirming that the body was of Paul Wells," said Gurbachan Jagat, Kashmir's police chief.

Police are still searching for three missing tourists: Donald Hutchings of Spokane, Wash.; Keith Mangan of Britain; and Derk Hasert of Germany.

The six men were abducted by members of Al Faran, one of many groups fighting Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir state. Since 1989, militants supported by Pakistan have been waging an insurgency in the Muslim-majority state.

The kidnappers demanded the release of 21 jailed militants, including Maulana Masood Azhar, their leader. Al Faran is believed to be a front name for Harkat Ansar, a group now known as Harkat Moujahedeen that is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

The government refused. One American hostage, John Childs, managed to escape. The body of another, Hans Christian Ostro of Norway, was found beheaded.

The hostages were last seen in southern Kashmir in December 1995, and there had been no information about them since then.

Wells' body was exhumed from the village of Akingam in July 1997 after police received reports that a foreigner was killed and buried there. Initial tests could not prove that the body was that of Wells, but the Central Forensic Science Laboratory eventually confirmed that the DNA matched blood samples from Wells' parents.

In Britain, Wells' mother, Diane, said the family was still awaiting confirmation on DNA tests from the British Foreign Office.

"It's been years of wondering if it might be him, and while we don't want this body to be Paul, we would like to bring him home," she said. "We do not think Paul is alive."

Last week, India released three jailed militants, including Azhar, in exchange for 155 hostages on an Indian Airlines plane hijacked by Islamic militants.

Bob Wells said his son's memory had been "betrayed" by Azhar's release.

"It's disgraceful that they have freed this man who was also central to the demands for Paul's release 4 1/2 years ago," the father said. "Paul's memory is being betrayed. He died for nothing as far as I can see."

Hutchings' wife, Jane Schelly of Spokane, did not immediately return a message left at her parents' home in Pennsylvania, where she was staying.

Joyce Schelly said her daughter planned to leave for Pakistan, where she plans to make a new humanitarian appeal for information about the fate of the hostages.

"She thinks someone involved in the hijacking might have some information about what happened," Joyce Schelly said.

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