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Fresh efforts to locate 39 abducted Indians in Mosul

The city has now been retaken, but proof of their survival continues to evade the Indian government.

india Updated: Jul 13, 2017 07:51 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Mosul,Abducted Indians,Islamic State
A man walks along a damaged street in west Mosul, a few days after the government's announcement of liberation of the embattled city from Islamic State.(AFP)

“It’s difficult. But don’t forget that we have always been led by hope.”

This was the cryptic response provided by an Indian official when asked about the Centre’s chances of locating 39 Indian construction workers abducted by Islamic State militants at Mosul in 2014. The city has now been retaken, but proof of their survival continues to evade the Indian government.

Nevertheless, the external affairs ministry says that until there is any information to the contrary, it will continue to work under the assumption that the captives are still alive.

Getting credible information on the labourers has been a daunting task, said an official familiar with the developments.

“The first task was to find local contacts, and that became all the more difficult once the Islamic State took over Mosul completely,” he added.

India was relying heavily on its contacts from Turkey and Palestine in Mosul, besides other neighbouring countries, for this purpose.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj discussed the matter with her Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, on two occasions after the kidnapping. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also brought it up during interactions with Palestine president Mahmoud Abbas and Turkish premier Tayyip Erdoğan.

“The first such crisis — an Indian nurse kidnapped from Tikrit — was sorted out fast. So the political leadership was keen on resolving this on a war footing too,” said another official.

Though updates emerged at frequent intervals, efforts to obtain a clear photo of the abductees went in vain. The contacts said the guards would not let them take any pictures. Reports suggested that they were put to work at a food factory on the outskirts of Mosul for a while, and later shifted out to lay oil pipelines.

Ascertaining the information provided by foreign contacts was always a problem. But Swaraj kept the hopes of their relatives alive, meeting them whenever they sought an appointment.

An escaped captive suggested that his colleagues may have been killed, but the government was quick to deny such a possibility. Still clutching on to hope, the external affairs ministry opened a consulate at Erbil – 90 km from Mosul – and appointed Indian Foreign Services official Deepak Miglani as its consul general.

Last heard, the captives were supposedly seen at a church a few weeks before the final surge against the Islamic State. And as soon as Mosul was reclaimed, VK Singh was sent to coordinate rescue efforts from Erbil.

First Published: Jul 13, 2017 07:50 IST