American Hostage Escapes From Rebels in Kashmir
Jul. 09, 1995
SRINAGAR, India (AP) _ An American tourist who was kidnapped by separatist rebels in Kashmir escaped Saturday, four days after his capture.
``I took advantage of darkness and bad weather, and escaped at 2 a.m.,'' John Childs said in an interview in Srinagar. ``I was not released, I escaped.''
Childs, of Simsbury, Conn., was kidnapped Tuesday evening along with another American and two Britons by militants of Al-Faran, a little-known group fighting for Kashmir's independence from India.
Childs said the three others were still being held when he escaped, but he refused to give other details about their condition or whereabouts.
He said he had not been injured by his captors, and had received only a few bruises on his feet while hiking through the mountains to safety after his escape.
He eventually reached the resort town of Pahalgam and Indian officials brought him back to Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state. He was staying in a heavily guarded government guest house, where he met with U.S. and Indian officials.
Childs' mother, Helen Childs, heard of her son's escape from U.S. State Department officials, then spoke to her son.
``It more or less seemed like a dream,'' she said in a telephone interview early Sunday from her home in Salem, N.Y.
On Saturday, militants captured another Westerner, Dirk Hasert of Erfurt, Germany, who was traveling on horseback with a group of tourists, police said. It was unclear if Al-Faran was involved.
Hundreds of soldiers combed the Himalayan mountain region in northern India for Hasert and the other three Western hostages: Donald Fred Hutchings of Spokane, Wash., and Britons Paul Wells and Keith Mangan.
Also captured with Childs and the others Tuesday were an American woman, two British women, a Canadian man and two Kashmiri guides, but the rebels freed them Wednesday with a note demanding the release of 21 jailed rebels.
On Saturday, nomads also reported another foreigner was missing, and police said they were worried about 35 other foreigners, mostly trekkers, in the area. It was not immediately clear whether they would be asked to leave.
A top police official in Jammu-Kashmir state told The Associated Press that an informer spotted the American and British hostages Saturday in the company of 15-20 armed men near a remote mountain pass.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it would be difficult to approach the pass without starting a gun battle.
The government continued efforts to contact Al-Faran, the group that claimed responsibility for kidnapping the two Americans and two Britons. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the German tourist.
Muslim rebels have been battling since 1989 for independence in Jammu-Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in mostly Hindu India. They have often kidnapped foreigners to draw attention to their cause.
Early Saturday morning, armed men stopped a group of six foreigners riding horses in the mountains near Chandwari, 65 miles south of the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar, according to the owner of the horses.
Bashir Ahmed said the men kidnapped the German tourist and told five women tourists to leave.
Nomads living in the area told police that another foreigner had been missing from his tent for almost 24 hours. The nomads said they did not know his name, nationality or how long he had been camping in the mountains, officials said.
Saturday's abduction is the fourth kidnapping incident involving Western tourists in the last year. All previous hostages were released unharmed.
Many Westerners used to visit Kashmir to climb the beautiful foothills of the Himalayan Mountains or to stay in houseboats on Dal Lake in Srinagar, but most tourists avoid the area now because of the fighting.