From Kashmir to California: in the footsteps of a wanted killer
Journalist Zahid Rafiq tells how he tried to reach Avtar Singh, a former Indian military man living outside Fresno with a dark past in Kashmir. On Saturday, Mr. Singh killed his family and himself.
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Asked if it is usual for such cases to go on for five years, she responded: “Removal cases are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and timeframe.”Skip to next paragraph
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In recent years, the US has been courting India after weak relations during the cold war. The US has been encouraging India to deepen its involvement in Afghanistan and with the navies on China’s periphery. In 2011, the US ambassador to India visited Kashmir but did not meet with Kashmiri separatist leaders, a suggestion at least to some that the US was willing to stay quiet on Kashmir for the good of broader US-India relations.
The US government also remained quiet in 2011 when Singh was not extradited but remained on US soil. A call to the US State Department Monday was not returned.
A low-profile life in California
After talking with Dyck, I drove by Singh’s house on Pine Street and also by his previous house on McCall Avenue. They were quiet neighborhoods, past endless vineyards and peach orchards.
Singh changed houses often enough that neither his neighbors nor the Sikh religious leaders knew much about the family. Harry Gill, president of the local Punjabi organization, knew only that the family kept a low profile.
“Not many people knew him. He didn’t tell anybody who he is or where he came from,” he told the Associated Press after the killings.
I was also asking around about Singh from journalists who had reported his domestic violence story in 2011, and had asked a Fresno-based journalist to arrange an interview for me with Singh, if possible. I was reluctant to meet Singh myself because I somehow knew he wouldn’t talk to me after finding out that I was Kashmiri.
Word had reached Singh that a Kashmiri reporter was inquiring about him and had come seeking an interview. He called me that evening. It was a calm voice, speaking in steady English, and inquired if I was the Kashmiri who was looking for him. I said yes. He asked if I was in Fresno. I lied that I was coming tomorrow. And then he shouted, using expletives.
“You think this is your father’s Kashmir. Do you have any idea where you are coming? You have such guts that you have come from Kashmir. Just set your foot in Selma and I will shoot you. I will kill you,” he yelled, jumping between native Punjabi and Hindi as he got more upset.
I asked if he knew he was threatening with death a reporter who only wanted an interview. He continued making threats, and then hung up.
A restraining order
The next morning, the Selma police called me to say that Singh had filed a complaint and got a restraining order against me that prohibited me from going close to his house, his office, or him and his family.
When I read the news of killings in Selma two days ago, I was shocked. The first thing I remembered was the long email Singh’s wife had sent to me in 2011 after I had written a story about Singh’s past in Kashmir and the need for his extradition.
She had threatened to sue my magazine and me if we didn’t apologize in the next issue. She also wrote that her husband was a soldier who had bled for his country, and had never, and would never, spill an innocent man’s blood.
Had Singh been extradited and made to face the legal system, it would have been a lifesaver for the 10 families in Kashmir who accuse Singh of killing their loved ones. It also, most likely, would have been a lifesaver for Singh’s wife and two of his children killed Saturday. A third child was badly injured but remains alive in a hospital.
“It is an unfortunate end. Not justice in any sense of the word,” says Hafizullah Mir, Andrabi’s lawyer. “Avtar Singh should have faced the court, and we should have heard his side of the story, too, and the side of the victims and then the court.”
* Ben Arnoldy contributed to this report from Boston.