All 46 Indian nurses stranded in an Iraqi hospital were forcibly moved out by Sunni insurgents who were holding them captive and shifting them to another area, one of them told HT on Thursday while being herded into a truck.
The ‘abduction’ of the nurses, all of them women and from Kerala, leaves India facing another hostage situation. A month ago, the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIS) militants, who now control northern and western Iraq, snatched 40 Indian construction workers from Mosul. All but one of them are still in captivity. Reports indicated that nurses, too, could be taken to the northern town, an ISIS stronghold.
“Our government wasted a lot of time. Now, they can send coffins to take us back,” a sobbing Sona Jospeh told HT over the phone. “We were politely resisting their moves to shift us from the hospital but now their tone is different. We have no option but to obey them.”
"Asked if the nurses had been kidnapped, ministry of external affairs (MEA) spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said in Delhi, “In zones of conflict there is no free will ... This is a situation where lives are at stake.”
Five of the nurses, forced into three trucks from the Tikrit Teaching Hospital where they were stranded for the last two weeks, suffered minor injuries when shards from a blast in a nearby area hit them, a relative told HT.
They were captives and strictly told by ‘bearded boys’ not to use cellphones, one of the nurses said in a late night message to a family member in Thiruvananthapuram.
They were on the move and passing through an inhospitable terrain, the message read. The militants, said another relative, even answered the phones of some of the nurses.
Though Akbaruddin couldn’t confirm the identity of militants or their destination, reports claimed the nurses could be shifted to Mosul, 250km north of Tikrit which has seen fierce fighting this week with Iraqi troops failing to regain control of the city from ISIS.
Government doing everything for Indians stranded in Iraq: MEA
Spokesman of Kerala-based United Nurses Association Jasmin Shah said the MEA and Kerala CM Oommen Chandy, who is camping in Delhi, were aware of the plan to shift the nurses as militants were threatening to blow up the hospital.
According to sources in the government, the “decision” to make the nurses obey ISIS order came after external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Chandy met twice during the day when nurses were also spoken to.
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