Former Indian Army officer accused of Kashmir crimes kills self, family in US
The Indian government sought Avtar Singh's extradition from the US last year for the killing of a human rights lawyer, but he remained free for unknown reasons.
Selma, Calif. — A former Indian army officer wanted in the killing of a human rights lawyer in the disputed Kashmir region shot and killed his own wife and two of their children in their California home before apparently committing suicide, authorities said.
A 17-year-old believed to be the man's son also was "barely alive" after the attack Saturday morning, Fresno County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Curtice said.
The ex-officer, Avtar Singh, had been arrested in this central California city last year after his wife said he choked her, and the Indian government sought his extradition days after that in the 1996 death of Jalil Andrabi.
But he remained free, for reasons that were not immediately clear. Andrabi's brother and lawyer blamed New Delhi, saying Singh's family would still be alive if the government had tried harder to bring him to justice.
"These lives could have been saved if a trial of Maj. Avtar Singh was conducted on time," said Andrabi's brother, Arshad. "We have lost that chance now. He was a known murderer and we are appalled that he was even shielded in the United States. It's a failure of justice at all levels."
Singh, who owned a trucking company in Selma, called police around 6:15 a.m. Saturday and told them that he had just killed four people, Curtice said. He added that a sheriff's SWAT team was called in to assist because of Singh's military background and the India charges against him.
When the SWAT team entered the home they found the bodies of Singh, a woman believed to be his wife and two children, Curtice said. All appeared to have died from gunshot wounds.
The 17-year-old suffered severe head trauma and underwent surgery at a hospital where he remained in intensive care Saturday evening, Curtice said.
Singh, 47, was arrested by Selma police in February 2011 when his wife reported that he had choked her, Selma Police Chief Myron Dyck said shortly after that arrest. Police then discovered that he was being sought in India, but Dyck said at the time that he could not keep Singh in custody on the murder charge without a warrant from international authorities.
Several days later, India requested that the United States arrest and extradite Singh. It wasn't clear on Saturday why Singh had remained free since the request. A request for comment from the Consulate General of India in San Francisco on Saturday was not immediately returned.
Dyck didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Saturday about the 2011 arrest, and Selma police referred questions about the apparent murder-suicide to Fresno County sheriff's officials.
Selma police last had contact with Singh about two months ago when he called to complain that reporters wouldn't leave him alone because of the murder warrant, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims told the Fresno Bee.
Jalil Andrabi was killed at the height of protests in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where nearly a dozen rebel groups have fought security forces for independence or merger with Pakistan since 1989. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilian, have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.
Andrabi disappeared in March 1996 in Kashmir's main city, Srinagar. His body was recovered 19 days later in a local river. He had been shot in the head and his eyes were gouged out.
A police investigation said Andrabi had been picked up from his home by Indian troops and killed in their custody. The probe blamed Singh and his soldiers for that killing and also accused Singh of involvement in the killings of six other Kashmiri men.
Singh had been charged in Kashmir only with Andrabi's killing. Kashmir police had sought permission from the government of India for Singh's prosecution in the six other killings. Under India's armed forces special powers act, federal permission has to be obtained before police can prosecute any army or paramilitary soldier posted in Kashmir.
No soldier has been punished for Andrabi's killing, human rights lawyers say.
Singh fled India after he was accused of killing Andrabi. Hafizullah Mir, a human rights lawyer, said he was tracked to California in 2009 with the help of the Canadian Center for International Justice, a human rights advocacy group, but that New Delhi did not pursue extradition until after his 2011 arrest.
In Selma, Singh owned and operated Jay Truck Lines. Alli Adan, a driver for the company, said he had seen Singh the night before the killings, and that had appeared to be acting normally.
"He was a nice guy," Adan told the Fresno Bee. "I couldn't believe it because I didn't think he could do something like this."