British woman stabbed to death on Kashmir houseboat

SRINAGAR, India (AFP) - A young British woman holidaying in Indian Kashmir was found dead in a pool of blood on a houseboat on Saturday, police said after arresting a Dutch man on suspicion of her murder.

The 43-year-old Dutch national was taken into custody as he tried to flee the scenic Kashmir valley in the foothills of the Himalayas, police superintendent Tahir Sajjad told AFP.

"We walked into a pool of blood in her room," Sajjad said. "We found a sharp-edged knife close to her body. The young lady had multiple stab wounds." The attacker broke the latch on the cabin door of the 24-year-old British tourist who had been staying in the houseboat on the picturesque Dal Lake in the Indian Kashmir city of Srinagar for two months, police said.

Police were investigating whether the victim had been sexually assaulted in the incident, which comes after a string of attacks on tourists travelling in India. They said her body had been sent for a post-mortem examination.

"We can confirm the Jammu and Kashmir police have the body of a British woman. We have contacted the next-of-kin and we are providing consular assistance to the family," a British High Commission (embassy) spokeswoman told AFP in New Delhi.

In a statement, the police said that the victim was from Manchester. They identified the woman as Sarah Groves.

They arrested the suspect in a taxi near Qazigund, 75km south of Srinagar on the highway leading out of the Kashmir valley, and they identified him as 43-year-old Richard De-Wit.

"The suspect has been taken into custody on suspicion of murder and we are questioning him," Sajjad said.

De-Wit had been staying in an adjacent room in the same houseboat, named "New Beauty", and the victim and he had arrived on Thursday, police said.

Police said they were investigating whether the two knew each other.

De-Wit had allegedly fled in a small boat which capsized as he was trying to reach the shore, forcing him to swim. The suspect was carrying only his passport when he was arrested, police said.

"We flashed an alert for his arrest," Kashmir Inspector General of Police Abdul Ghani Mir said.

The Dutch embassy in New Delhi could not be reached immediately for comment.

The victim had been a regular visitor to the houseboat in Srinagar for three years, the vessel's owner said.

"She was like our family member and would often eat with us," Abdul Rahim Shoda, the houseboat owner, told AFP. "She was like my daughter and my soul is crying." Shoda said he discovered the victim "lying on the floor, drenched in blood" several hours after midnight when he got up to do his regular prayers.

"I just went mad seeing what was in front of me," he said.

Every year, thousands of tourists visit Kashmir, known as the "Switzerland of the East" for its snow-capped mountains, lakes and breathtaking landscapes, many of them staying on numerous brightly decorated houseboats dotting Dal Lake.

Last month, a 39-year-old Swiss cyclist was allegedly gang-raped and robbed by six men in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Also last month, a British woman dental hygienist suffered leg injuries when she jumped from a hotel balcony in the northern tourist city of Agra, fearing a sexual assault by hotel employees.

The safety of women in India has been in the spotlight since the December fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a bus in New Delhi, which sparked nationwide outrage.

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