July 29: A masked kidnapper pointed a rifle at the head of Antaryami, one of the three Indian truck drivers abducted in Iraq, as a voice on the video threatened to kill a hostage tomorrow evening.
“If no one responds to us, we will slaughter one of the hostages on Friday, July 30, at 7 pm (20.30 IST),” the voice said, adding that the group had decided the hostages were fighters supporting the US military in Iraq.
On the videotape given to foreign news organisations today, the guerrillas — who call themselves the Holders of the Black Banner — did not say which hostage among the three Indians, three Kenyans and one Egyptian they were threatening to kill.
The kidnappers have demanded the Kuwaiti company that employs the seven truckers pull out of Iraq. Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company has been negotiating for the hostages’ release with the group, which is believed to be demanding money.
But the assessment of danger to the three Indians has changed dramatically with two Pakistani hostages being killed by their captors.
The video showed Antaryami, from Himachal Pradesh, kneeling on the floor and sweating in fear as the gunman held the rifle to his head. He was clothed in orange, mimicking the jumpsuits of the same colour worn by prisoners in US detention facilities, including Muslim inmates at Guantanamo Bay.
Kidnappers in Iraq have repeatedly dressed hostages in orange before killing them, usually by beheading.
“We are deeply disturbed by this development,” the minister of state for external affairs, E. Ahmad, said after a nearly four-hour meeting of the crisis management group set up to deal with the hostage crisis.
On the tape, the voice said the Kuwaiti firm and embassies had ignored “humanitarian” efforts by a mediator to free the men.
“…The lack of sincerity of the Indian government with its people is far from the way of Gandhi in realising peace and rejecting occupation, so we have decided that these are fighters, supporting the infidel in transporting supplies to them,” the voice said.
In Delhi, the impression was that negotiations between the Kuwaiti company and the kidnappers might have stalled during hard bargaining over the ransom.
The Kuwaiti company has been conducting the talks through Sheikh Hisham al-Dulami, an Iraqi tribal chief who has been appointed by the kidnappers as mediator.
Al-Dulami had successfully negotiated the release of an Egyptian truck driver and a Filipino recently. He was quoted by AFP as saying the Indian embassy in Baghdad was also talking to the group through a go-between. “The Indian embassy has started moving,” al-Dulami said when asked if the mission was negotiating through him.
In Upper Dehla village of Una, Antaryami’s family has not eaten since last night when they learnt about the deaths of the two Pakistanis. “We have not heard from any government official for the last three days. We have lost faith in everything. Only God can save our son now,” Ram Murti, Antaryami’s father, said.
Antaryami was kidnapped with Tilak Raj and Sukhdev Singh last week.