Iraqi Shiite tribesmen brandish their weapons as they gather to show their willingness to join Iraqi security forces in the fight against militants who have taken over several northern Iraqi cities. (AFP photo)
Forty Indian construction workers were confirmed to have been abducted from the Iraq city of Mosul, but no ransom demands were received, a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Wednesday.
“It is with deep, deep sadness we to inform you that 40 workers of the Tariq Noor Al Huda construction company have been abducted,” Syed Akbaruddin told a press gathering.
The abducted people, he said, were largely from northern parts of India — “Punjab belt, etc”. “You can never be certain about exact information,” he said on being asked about the exact location of the workers and their condition.
“We will not spare any efforts to help the Indians in Iraq… International Red Crescent has confirmed that they have been kidnapped, but is unaware of their location. (There is) no answer on how they were kidnapped,” Akbaruddin said.
“India is sending back its former envoy... to strengthen the embassies in Iraq,” he added.
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The foreign ministry spokesperson said they were not yet contacted by the abductors. “We have not received a call of any nature, asking for ransom or confirming that they (militants) have taken the workers under their control,” he said.
A newspaper report had earlier said that insurgents had abducted the 40 workers in the Iraq city of Mosul amid a deteriorating security situation.
According to an Indian government official there are about 120 Indians that the mission is trying to evacuate from those parts of northern Iraq that have been overrun by militants.
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Amid worsening situation in Iraq, the Indian government called in the Iraqi envoy to New Delhi to discuss ways of helping Indian nationals trapped in the affected areas of Mosul and Tikrit and also held a crisis management meeting. There are 46 Indian nurses — most of them from Kerala — stranded in Tikrit.
“Out of the 46 nurses, many wanted to stay back. But even if there is one, we are willing to help them to best of our capabilities,” Akbaruddin said on Wednesday.
The external affairs ministry on Tuesday evening announced the setting up of a 24-hour control room to provide information to all concerned. The Indian embassy in Baghdad has also set up a 24-hour helpline.
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Pro-government Shiite militiamen killed nearly four dozen Sunni detainees after insurgents tried to storm a jail and free them northeast of Baghdad. The Iraqi military, however, insisted the inmates were killed when the attackers shelled the facility.
Fighting erupted at the northern approaches to Baghdad on Tuesday as Iraq accused Saudi Arabia of backing militants who have seized swathes of its territory in an offensive the UN says threatens its very existence.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) came to prominence during the takeover of Fallujah in January and the following month Washington recognised it as a terrorist group. Nevertheless, it has been overtly and covertly been supported by pro-Sunni groups in Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries. The funding of radical groups like Jabhat al-Nusra have given the ISIS more firepower.
Read: Indian nurses in Iraq describe ordeal
On June 10, the ISIS captured Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. It has descended — and at an alarming pace — from the northwest of the country and is taking town after town, reaching about 60 miles from the capital Baghdad. Such has been the pace of its advancement that by the time the international community took notice and condemned it the ISIS had made great progress.
On Tuesday, Baquba — capital of Diyala province, 60 km from Baghdad — saw Sunni militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) take control of several districts before government troops and allied Shia militia regained control, according to reports.
The US and Iran are actively considering ways to help the Iraqi government tackle the situation, including through military air strikes.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has been monitoring and reviewing the situation on a regular basis and in accordance with her instructions, the Indian embassy in Baghdad is providing updated reports on the Indian nationals in the affected areas, said ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.
According to R Dayakar, who was envoy for eight years in two stints, said the areas that have been taken over by the Sunni militants do not have a large Indian populace. Most of the Indians in Iraq are in Basra and Kurdistan, which are safer places.
What makes providing safety to the Indians in Tikrit difficult is that there is no flight service from the city to Baghdad.
"The only way to the Iraqi capital is over land. There are chances of encountering jihadists at the fake check points they set up on the road," Dayakar told IANS news agency.
Dayakar said the Iraqi Red Crescent went and looked up the Indian nurses in Tikrit at the request of the Indian government.
Besides the Indian nationals, there are workers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal working in the affected areas.
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Children play with an Iraqi Army helmet left behind after militants from the al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took over the northern city of Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo, File)
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The external affairs ministry control room nos are: +91 11 2301 2113, +91 11 2301 7905, +91 11 2301 4104; Fax: +91 11 2301 8158
In addition, the Indian embassy in Baghdad has set up a 24-hour helpline which can be accessed for information or assistance. The numbers are:
Tel. No. +964 770 444 4899 (Mobile)
Tel. No. +964 770 484 3247 (Mobile)
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