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Families of 39 Indians kidnapped in Mosul told to take DNA tests

On Saturday, the Punjab health department collected blood samples from kin of three of the missing men from Gurdaspur district. The 39 men were kidnapped by Islamic State in Mosul nearly 3 years ago.

india Updated: Oct 21, 2017 22:54 IST
Jayanth Jacob and Vishal Sally
Jayanth Jacob and Vishal Sally
Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Batala
DNA samples,Kin of 39 missing Indians,Punjab govt
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, minister of state MJ Akbar and VK Singh with the families of 39 Indian men missing in Iraq since June 2014, in New Delhi in July.(PTI File Photo)

The government is collecting DNA samples from the kin of 39 Indians kidnapped by the Islamic State in Mosul more than three years ago at the suggestion of some parliamentarians and Iraqi authorities as part of a fresh effort to determine their fate.

A letter sent by the external affairs ministry to officials in Punjab, the state to which most of the missing men belonged, said the samples are needed urgently as a team is set to visit Iraq on October 23.

Sources familiar with the developments told Hindustan Times that after numerous mass graves were found in areas of Iraq liberated from the IS, some MPs and politicians had urged external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to ensure that DNA samples were collected from the relatives of those men to help in the search.

Iraqi authorities too wrote to Indian officials some time ago that DNA samples would help “explore all possibilities” in the search.

“Taking these two strands into account, the external affairs ministry decided to request the governments of the states, to which the missing men belonged, to take DNA samples of their relatives,” said a source.

A second source said the latest development “doesn’t mean any finality in our search for the missing Indians”. The source added, “We are still looking for them.”

Read more: No evidence that 39 Indians missing in Iraq are killed: Sushma Swaraj

The government continues to classify the 39 workers kidnapped in June 2014 as “missing”. The government has also taken a position that as long as it doesn’t have conclusive proof they are dead, it would “like to believe they are alive”, sources said.

The families of some workers from Punjab were informed by the local administration over phone on Friday evening to visit the nearest civil hospital on Saturday to provide blood samples.

Nine families from Amritsar district, who went to the forensic department of the Government Medical College, were unable to give blood samples as the facility did not have the proper equipment. Officials said they would be recalled once the equipment is available.

On Saturday, the Punjab health department collected blood samples from kin of three missing men from Gurdaspur district.

P Ashok, the under secretary (states) in the external affairs ministry, had on October 18 directed Gurdaspur’s deputy commissioner to collect the blood samples “at the earliest”.

Senior medical officer Sanjeev Bhalla said after orders were received from the deputy commissioner, three teams went to Tallianwal, Rupowali and Talwandi Jhuran villages to collect blood samples from the relatives of Malkait Singh, Kamaljeet Singh and Dharminder, who are among the missing men.

Kamaljeet’s mother, Mohinder Kaur (62), told Hindustan Times a health department team came to her home and collected blood samples from her and her husband.

“This fresh development has once again built a new hope in our hearts as we have full faith in the words of Sushma Swaraj, who repeatedly assured us that our son is alive and the government will leave no stone unturned for his safe return,” she said.

Read more: Syria has no information about 39 Indians who went missing in Iraq: Envoy

Other relatives were worried by the development, especially because of the uncertainty that has surrounded the fate of the men.

Gurpinder Kaur, whose brother Manjinder Singh is among the missing, said, “It is natural for the grieving families to worry as the administrative authorities have not disclosed the reason behind the DNA test. We don’t know much about the sudden move.

“Normally, blood samples are collected at the initial stage in such cases. Maybe the government is late in collecting the samples and it has asked to do so now,” said Gurpinder, who has been leading efforts to ascertain the whereabouts of the workers.

Sarwan Singh, the brother of Nishan Singh who belongs to Amritsar district, said, “In such a situation, I can only pray for the life of my brother.”

At one point, the government had said six sources had confirmed that the workers were alive. But the government was never directly in touch with the abductors.

In July, Swaraj said minister of state VK Singh, during his visit to Iraq, had been told the missing Indians were being held at Badush prison near Mosul. But Iraqi authorities subsequently said the jail had no inmates when the area was recaptured from the IS by pro-government troops.

On March 11, the Al-Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces, announced it had found the remains of 500 prisoners executed by the IS in Badush prison.

Sources in the Iraqi armed forces involved in the liberation of Mosul said there was a strong likelihood the abducted Indians were killed by the IS in the surrounding desert, just like 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, 2014.

(With inputs from Surjit Singh in Amritsar)

First Published: Oct 21, 2017 19:59 IST