Volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), parade down a street in the city of Baquba. (Reuters)
Latest ground reports from Iraq indicate that no less than 44 Indians are being held in captivity by Islamic State terrorists including 39 labourers from Punjab, two of whom were apparently sighted in ISIS held Mosul last week. The Punjab construction labourers were abducted by ISIS fighters on June 16 with Indian government making all efforts to get them released.
South Block sources told Hindustan Times on condition of anonymity that messages from Indian embassy in Iraq indicate that there was strong possibility that the ISIS held Indians were still alive and held in a cement factory in the outskirts of Mosul. This input is corroborated with
Indian intelligence who has also picked up signs from its sources on ground including Sunni religious authorities that there was still hope for the captives. “ We are told that apart from a few who have fallen ill, the Indian are still in custody of the ISIS. Two of the Arabic speaking Punjab labourers were identified by sources on ground but there was no perfect match on the basis of photographs as the Indians had grown beards in captivity,” said a South Block official.
While Narendra Modi government has knocked doors of Iraq, Kurdish, Saudi, Qatari and Turkish authorities to secure the release of Indian hostages, barring stray sightings and intercepts, there is no conclusive proof of the captives being alive as there have been no negotiations or ransom demands from the captors.
The mobiles of the majority of the labourers have been switched off since June 16 evening with some two phones now with new Bangladeshi owners who were picked up with Punjab labourers but later let off by ISIS on the same day.
To add to the Indian confusion is the statement of Gurdaspur resident Harjit Singh Masih, who managed to escape ISIS custody under mysterious circumstances on the same day with minor injuries. Masih, who perhaps converted to Islam to escape certain death at the hands of ISIS, has told Indian authorities that the Punjab labourers were killed by Sunni terrorists on June 16.
With no recovery of Indian bodies in the ISIS held Mosul and Masih’s story showing discrepancies, New Delhi has no options but to keep its hopes alive.