The family of a US man reportedly killed by arrows fired by members of an endangered tribe in India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands has said they forgive those who killed him.
In a statement, they said John Allen Chau “loved God, life, helping those in need, and had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people”.
Seven people who helped him reach North Sentinel island have been arrested.
The Indian authorities say it may take “some days” to recover Mr Chau’s body.
Outsiders are banned from even approaching the island to protect the people who live there and their way of life.
His family released a statement on Instagram, saying he had gone to the island of “his own free will”.
“We also ask for the release of those friends he had in the Andaman Islands. He ventured out of his own free will and his local contacts need not be persecuted for his own actions,” the statement said.
A murder case has been registered against unknown persons, and seven people, including at least five fishermen, have been arrested for helping the American reach the island, police say.
The authorities have sent a helicopter to the area and then a ship to identify where the incident took place.
“We maintained a distance from the island and have not yet been able to spot the body. It may take some more days and… [reconnaissance] of the area,” Dependra Pathak, director-general of police on India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, told the AFP news agency.
Police have roped in field experts including Indian anthropologists, and tribal welfare and forest officers to help them tackle the situation.
“We have to take care that we must not disturb them or their habitat by any means. It is a highly sensitive zone and it will take some time,” he said.
On his last visit to the island, Mr Chau had taken a boat with local fishermen towards the remote North Sentinel island. He then ventured alone in a canoe to the beach.
As soon as he set foot on the island, he was attacked with bows and arrows, according to the fishermen who took him there.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a chain of small islands hundreds of kilometres east of India in the Indian Ocean.
Contact with several tribes on the islands is illegal to protect their indigenous way of life and shield them from diseases.
In 2017, the Indian government also said taking photographs or making videos of the aboriginal Andaman tribes would be punishable with imprisonment of up to three years.
Two Indian fisherman fishing illegally off North Sentinel Island were killed by the tribe in 2006.
The Sentinelese, who are totally cut off from civilisation, are thought to number only around 150.
Mr Chau had previously visited North Sentinel island about four or five times with the help of local fishermen.
Local media have reported that Mr Chau may have wanted to meet the tribe to preach Christianity to them.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Covenant Journey, a programme that takes college students on a tour of Israel to affirm their Christian faith, told the Associated Press Mr Chau went through that programme in 2015.
“He didn’t go there for just adventure. I have no question it was to bring the gospel of Jesus to them,” Mr Staver said.
Global organisations like London-based Survival International have been campaigning to protect the indigenous tribes living in the Andamans.
The tribe live on their own island, roughly the size of Manhattan, but most of what is known about them comes from viewing them from a distance.
John Allen Chau ‘tribal death’: Family forgives killers