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Air raids may put Indian hostages at risk, worries govt

world Updated: Sep 24, 2014 00:16 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times

The US-led attack on ISIS targets in Syria has raised fresh concern in India over the fate of 39 construction workers taken hostage by the Sunni extremist group in Iraq three months ago.

The men were abducted on June 15 and their mobiles have been switched off ever since. The ministry of external affairs believes they are alive and being kept in a warehouse near a hotel in Mosul.

“We have multiple, credible inputs that they are alive and in ISIS captivity. The US-led bombing is of concern as the group may target them to avenge cruise missile attacks on Raqqa and other cities,” said a senior government official.

Even as the ministry fears for the safety of the hostages, the national security establishment is of the belief that ISIS didn’t spare any of the men for even a day after their abduction.

This draws on the statement of Harjit Singh Masih — who claims to be the sole man among the workers who escaped the terrorists — that all 39 were killed. Masih’s clothes and shoes were spattered with the blood of two persons, which many believe supports his claim.

The agencies, sources said, have not received any news from their associates in West Asia of the labourers being alive. But neither do they have evidence to conclusively say the men are dead.

New Delhi’s fears have been compounded by the release on Saturday of 49 Turkish diplomats and three Iraqis, apparently in exchange for 180 extremists. The Turks were taken hostage in Mosul just four days before the Indians.

According to MEA inputs, the Indians — possibly the biggest non-Muslim group now in ISIS captivity — were being kept with some Bangladeshis but there has been no demand or call for negotiations from their captors.

With the fate of the 39 uncertain, the government finds its hands tied on banning ISIS as a terrorist group or on supporting the international fight against it.