'We respect teachers, captors told us': Story of a Libya hostage
If their religion was initially the reason they were taken hostage in Libya, it was their profession that helped regain their freedom. Two of four university professionals kidnapped by the Islamic State near Sirte on July 29 found themselves hostage in the hands of gunmen who’d once also been their students, HT has learnt.Updated: Aug 02, 2015 09:32 IST
If their religion was initially the reason they were taken hostage in Libya, it was their profession that helped regain their freedom. Two of four university professionals kidnapped by the Islamic State near Sirte on July 29 found themselves hostage in the hands of gunmen who’d once also been their students, HT has learnt.
“Our profession worked to our advantage. We respect teachers, our captors told us,” Vijay Kumar told HT on phone from Tripoli. Kumar is one of the two professors who was freed on Friday, 48 hours after being kidnapped from a checkpoint 50 km from Sirte, where he taught English for the last eight years.
The four were driving in two taxis from Sirte to Tripoli on their way to India when they were stopped. “We were stopped by masked gunmen who wanted to know our religion. They took us captive when they realised we were non-Muslims,” said Kumar, a resident of Bengaluru.
Kumar and Laxmikant Rama-krishna of Raichur in Karnataka were dragged by their captors and their drivers told to leave. “We were taken to a house somewhere in Sirte and kept in a room with 18-20 other hostages. All the others were blindfolded but not us. We were treated well from the time they got to know we were teachers. The captors were all young boys aged between 18 and 20 and many of them had been students in the same university."
Unknown to Kumar and Rama-krishna, government officials in Delhi were trying various channels to secure the release of the Indian nationals. Help was sought from the dean of Sirte University. “Several in the university have contacts with IS members and negotiations moved swiftly," an official revealed.
Within 48 hours, the two were being driven back to safety by their captors but not before they were given a lecture on the importance of reading the Quran and following the Islamic way of life. “I can communicate a bit in Arabic and I told my captors I have read the Quran and would read it in future too. We respect all religions," Kumar told the students-turned-terrorists.
While the Indian embassy in Tripoli is making arrangements to send Kumar and Ramakrishna back to India, officials continue with their efforts to trace the other two hostages. “I am relieved to be free but anxious to see my friends from Hyderabad," said Kumar.
Officials say T Gopikrishna and K Balram may have been taken out of Sirte. One of them worked in Jufra, 200km from Sirte, and the external affairs ministry is trying to establish contact with those who may be in a position to influence IS members there.