Nurses who were stranded in the territory held by Islamic extremists in Iraq, being received by relatives upon arrival at the airport in Kochi. (PTI Photo)
The Indian security establishment used its ties with counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United States to negotiate the release of the nurses, and progress was personally monitored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, government sources told HT.
Read: 200 Indians return from Iraq, another 400 to arrive in 48 hours
India worked with the three countries because they have had a line in to the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIS) from the days the hardline group was fighting their common enemy, the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria. The Americans also have a significant presence on the ground in Iraq.
Read: Freed Kerala nurses say ISIS militants protected them
After the ISIS fighters picked up the Indian nurses from a Tikrit hospital on Thursday with the intention of moving them to captivity in Mosul, the Indian establishment swung into action, working the phones to their friends in the region to get the bus diverted to the Kurdish border.
The nurses were set free at the border between 6 and 7pm Friday and escorted to Erbil airfield by Indian diplomatic and security staff. South Block officials denied any ransom was paid. The ministry of external affairs had maintained close contact with foreign ministries in the region, it is learnt.
Read: Release of nurses in Iraq marks a new phase in Indian diplomacy
While the nurses have made a safe exit from the war zone, the ISIS fighters are still holding Turkish diplomats hostage and the fate of 39 Indian labourers from Punjab is unknown.
“All I can say is that it is thanks to the goodwill that we have in the region that the lives of the nurses were secured,” said a senior Indian official, adding that countries in the region were also willing to help because they wanted to build a rapport with the new government in Delhi.
Watch: Freed Indian nurses reach Kochi from Iraq, welcomed by Kerala CM
Full coverage: Iraq on the brink