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Nurses head home, but what of 39 workers still in Iraq?

world Updated: Jul 05, 2014 00:44 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times
39 Indian construction workers

Conflicting reports about the fate of 39 Indian construction workers abducted in the north Iraqi city of Mosul by Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) Sunni jihadists has an influential section of the security establishment here worried.

Officials of the ministry of external affairs (MEA) claim that the workers were sighted by a contact two days ago and several times in the past and are “safe in captivity”. But some senior security officials are concerned over the fact that there has been no communication with the abducted men after their mobiles fell silent between 6pm and 7pm, Indian time, on June 15.

The Indian embassy in Baghdad was informed of the abduction by the Iraqi unit of humanitarian organisation International Red Crescent on June 17.

Earlier this week the victims’ photographs and passport details were sent to Mosul through private channels in the hope that someone in the city would have seen them.

The insurgents are believed to have segregated the 39 Indian labourers – most of them from Punjab -- in a bus while their Bangladeshi Muslim colleagues travelling with them were allowed to go. “Victims who gave false Sunni names were told to recite Islamic religious texts by the Isis terrorists,” said a senior Indian official.

To make matter worse, the insurgents have made no demand for a ransom to release the captives, giving credence to a frightening scenario. During the June 20 meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a senior MEA official gave a phone number (+444444…) from which a call was purportedly made by one of the victims to a relative in Punjab. It was later found that the number was not that of a satellite phone as surmised earlier and that the caller just said ‘hello’ and shut the phone.

Security analysts find it difficult to accept that 39 labourers are being kept below the radar by the jihadists in a city like Mosul without attracting attention. “Holding 39 people is not a small exercise and involves serious logistics, including food, toilets and medication. What is the certainty that the sightings by locals in Mosul are of the abducted workers? This total silence reeks of a worst-case scenario,” said a senior security official.