ISIS militants may use the remaining 39 Indian hostages as human shields in case of a military offensive by Iraqi or US authorities, the only person among the group to flee the captors has told government officials.
While there is little information on the other captives, in its conversations with Harjit Singh, now in the safe custody of Kurdish authorities in Erbil, the government has concluded that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant may use the Indians as their first line of defence, an official told HT on Saturday.
Iraqi Red Crescent Society, a humanitarian agency, told this paper that it “shares the assessment.’’
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Singh was among 40 Indian construction workers snatched by the ISIS men from their place of work in Mosul in northern Iraq on June 15.
HT was first to report, on June 20, that an Indian worker had managed to flee and was in the town of Erbil, 100km west of Mosul. Erbil is in northeast Iraq where Kurds have expanded their zone in what they regard as part of Kurdistan.
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Singh told Indian and Kurdish officials that he managed to melt into a group of Bangladeshis and ‘’jumped over a barbed-wire fence’’ to flee. He and others were used as porters and cooks by their captors, Singh told Baghdad-based Indian embassy officials.
“The abductees are being used as porters to carry weapons,’’ a government official said.
The al Qaeda-inspired Sunni militia seen to be working towards an Islamic emirate that straddles Syria and Iraq now controls swathes of territory in northwest and central Iraq, including cities of Mosul and Tikrit, the home town of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
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Singh, who used the phone of one of his Bangladeshi friends to contact the Indian embassy, was sharing information with Iraqi authorities looking for insights into the workings of the jihadi group, said sources.
Indian side, too, is in touch with him but a government official told HT that ‘’all of Singh’s account is not matching the version of the Bangladeshis with whom he travelled to Erbil”. “Singh appears to be traumatised and keeps saying ‘get me out of here’.”
The government continues to work with different organisations and countries in a bid to rescue the hostages but the task is complicated because ISIS, according to a government official, “keeps changing the location of the kidnapped Indians’’. The group is believed to be in or around Mosul, which adds to the problem, as ISIS controls the area.
Full coverage: Iraq on the brink