Badush prison in Iraq where 39 Indians were ‘last seen’ lies in ruins | Watch
The roofless building, mostly turned into rubble, is located in an area riddled with landmines. Sleeper cells of the IS are still active in the region though fighting in Badush village ended a few months ago, said a member of counter-terrorism force.Updated: Jul 22, 2017 10:56 IST
The prison near the Iraqi city of Mosul described by the Indian government as the last known location of 39 Indians kidnapped by the Islamic State three years ago is today a desolate and abandoned structure that has been unoccupied for weeks, if not months.
The roofless building, mostly turned into rubble, is located in an area riddled with landmines. Sleeper cells of the IS are still active in the region though fighting in Badush village ended a few months ago, says Brig Abdul Amin Al Kazraji of the Golden Division, the elite US-trained Iraqi counter-terror force that has been leading the fight against Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s terror group.
“I have no information about the abducted Indians but there is nothing at the prison anymore,” he said.
This correspondent travelled to the prison in Badush in a Humvee provided by Kazraji along with armed Iraqi soldiers. The vehicle made its way from Mosul, a city destroyed by the IS and air strikes by coalition forces, to Badush, a distance of about 25 km, via the Syria Road.
Near the prison, two armed soldiers walked ahead in the rough terrain in temperatures of more than 50 degrees Celsius, looking for mines.
They stopped near the fallen pillars of what was once the boundary of the prison. The rubble of the structure could be seen at a distance of about 200 metres and the soldiers said it wasn’t safe to go any further because of landmines.
On July 16, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had said that information gathered by minister of state VK Singh during a recent visit to Iraq suggested the 39 Indians kidnapped in June 2014 were possibly being held in the Badush prison. She said she was hopeful of getting more information about the Indians when her Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim Al-Jaafari visits New Delhi on July 24.
“An official who quoted intelligence sources told Gen Singh that they (the Indians) were deployed for a hospital construction and then in a farm. From there, they were sent to a jail in Badush. There has been no information since then,” Swaraj told reporters after meeting the families of the abducted men.
“Sources there told VK Singh that the missing Indians are most probably in a jail in Badush...,” she added.
Singh visited the Peshmerga front lines but not Badush during his visit to Iraq.
The prison in Badush was captured by the Iraqi Army’s 9th Armoured Division supported by the Iran-sponsored Al-Hashd al-Shaabi militia in early March.
It has not been in use since then and this runs counter to the information of the Indian government.
On June 10, 2014, the IS stormed the prison in Badush to free its fighters being held there. According to Human Rights Watch and several media reports, the IS killed at least 600 inmates, most of them Shias, at the time.
On March 11 this year, the Al-Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilisation Forces announced it had found the remains of 500 prisoners executed by the IS in the prison.
Sources in the Iraqi armed forces involved in the recent liberation of Mosul told Hindustan Times there is a strong likelihood the abducted Indians were killed by the IS in the surrounding desert, just like the other prisoners.
This information and the location of the prison match the account of Harjit Masih, the sole Indian from the group of 40 kidnapped in Mosul who managed to escape. Masih has told several media outlets the others were gunned down in the desert near Badush on June 15.
In 2014, the Indian government had cited information from the Red Crescent and assured the families of the 39 Indians they were still alive.
In Erbil, Hawre Ihsan Sadiq, who has been the manager for the Red Crescent branch since September 2014, said he had not received any information on the abducted Indians in the past three years.
“ISIS has been controlling Mosul for the last few years. There is no information on the Indians or anyone else. Of course, we hope we spot the Indians one day and they return home safely,” Sadiq said, adding the Red Crescent headquarters in Baghdad could have more information.
Though Mosul has been liberated, the city of Tal Afar, located 63 km to the west, continues to be a strong hold for the IS. Kazraji of the Golden Division provided a glimmer of hope when he said the IS had taken many hostages in the past and might still be holding some of them.
The operation to capture Tal Afar will begin soon but it could last a few months, increasing the agonising wait for the families of the abducted men.
There have also been reports that the IS may have decided to use the kidnapped Indians as leverage, but signs on the ground suggest otherwise. Since the US-backed offensive began in October, the IS released many hostages.
The Kurdish regional government promised minister of state VK Singh that it would look out for the Indians as it continued its efforts to trace more than 60 missing Peshmerga soldiers.