The year was 1984. Maqbool Bhatt, the co-founder of the radical Islamist terror outfit Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), had been languishing in prison and awaiting an impending death penalty. Bhatt was arrested while trying to cross the LoC (Line of Control) on June 10, 1966, from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) to the Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir, resulting in the death of a CID officer named Amar Chand.
In order to coerce the Indian government to release Maqbool Bhatt, the Kashmir Liberation Army (KLA) had abducted a 48-year-old Indian diplomat Ravindra Hareshwar Mhatre in UK on February 3, 1984. Mhatre was a second-ranking officer in the Indian Consular office in 86 New Street in Birmingham. The terror outfit sent a hand-written message to the Reuters office in London, informing that they have kidnapped the Indian diplomat and would kill him if their demands were not met.
They had sought the release of Maqbool Bhatt, terrorists Ashraf Qureshi and Hashim Qureshi involved in the hijacking of Indian Airlines aircraft (1971) and 7 radical Islamists from Kashmir who caused violence in Srinagar during a cricket match against the West Indies. The KLA had also demanded a ransom of 1 million pounds. Meanwhile, the Reuters office contacted the Scotland Yard and informed them about the development. The terror outfit rang up another Kashmiri separatist named Zubair Ansari to negotiate on their behalf.
Lack of information and Mhatre’s murder
Since the terrorists did not provide any addresses or named the Indian diplomat they had in captivity, the resolution of the tense situation seemed impossible. “It looks as if you people have not taken it seriously,” said the voice, “now you will have to face the consequences,” KLA told Ansari. On the following day, the dead body of Ravindra Hareshwar Mhatre was found at a farm in Hinckley in Leicestershire. The Indian diplomat was shot twice, once in the head and once in the body.
The Execution of JKLF founder Maqbool Bhatt
When the news of his death reached the South Block, a sense of panic struck the Indira Gandhi government. It was decided that the founder of JKLF, Maqbool Bhatt, would be hung soon. An official was dispatched to Kolkata to obtain the President’s rejection of the terrorists’ mercy petition. On February 11, Maqbool Bhatt was hanged to death at the Tihar jail.
Arrests in the Ravindra Mhatre murder case
In November 1977, JKLF had sent a tape-recorded message threatening to kill the then Indian High Commissioner NG Goray unless Maqbool Bhatt was released. The killing of the Indian diplomat in Birmingham was also linked to the fact that 90% of Kashmiris staying in Britain at that time hailed from PoK. Besides, one of the key reasons behind the KLA targetting Mhatre was that he wasn’t eligible for personal protection.
Eyewitnesses revealed that Mhatre was gheraoed by 3 people and shoved into a red car near the bus stop at Bartley Green in Birmingham. Following the brutal killing of Mhatre, two accused Mohammed Riaz and Abdul Qayyum Raja were convicted of the murder. Another JKLF terrorist, Mohammed Aslam Mirza was arrested in 2004 for overstaying his vias in the United States. Interestingly, it was found that his fingerprints matched with those found on the murder weapon of the Indian diplomat.
KLA, JKLF and Pakistan connection
Intelligence reports suggested that Qureshi flew to London from Pakistan along with JKLF co-founder Amanullah Khan and stayed ay his Luton Residence. At the same time, another JKLF terrorist had also gone to London prior to Mhatre’s death. It must be noted that the KLA and JKLF had the same objectives – the secession of Jammu and Kashmir from the Indian territory.
While the JKLF denied any involvement in the murder of the Indian diplomat, the Indian government believed that the sudden movement of the terrorists associated with the radical Islamist outfit, prior to Mhatre’s death could not merely be a coincidence.