Location of abducted Indians in Iraq known: MEA

Written by PTI | New Delhi | Updated: Jun 20 2014, 16:54pm hrs
India today said Iraqi authorities have identified the location of the 40 kidnapped Indians in Mosul town of strife-torn Iraq and assured that all out efforts will be made for their safe return.

Government said there are in all 120 Indians in the violence-hit areas including those kidnapped, hailing from Punjab, Kerala and other parts.

Amid mounting concerns over safety of the kidnapped Indians and those stranded in other areas, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj chaired two meetings of the crisis management group and explored various options to deal with the "difficult" situation.

The government said the Iraqi authorities have identified the location of the kidnapped Indians but no demand for ransom has been received. It was also not clear whether Sunni militant outfit ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), which captured Mosul, Tikrit and some other parts of Iraq, was behind the kidnapping.

"We have been informed by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry that they have been able to determine the location of where these abducted Indian nationals are being held captive with workers of a few other nationalities," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

Reaffirming government's strong resolve to secure release of the kidnapped Indians, Swaraj said they are "safe". She said no stone will be left unturned to ensure safe return of all those who are in difficulty in the troubled areas.

"We are making all-out efforts to ensure that all Indians return safely. We are leaving no stone unturned and whosoever is to be contacted, we have activated all of them. We guarantee to bring them back the moment there is normalcy there," she said after meeting the family members of some of the kidnapped Indians from Punjab.

Asked about the location of the kidnapped Indians, Akbaruddin did not elaborate but said there are some "leads". "At this stage I will not be able to share information on either location of that place or what the Iraqi authorities have shared with us."

He said no ransom demands have yet been received.

As government stepped up efforts to deal with the situation, former envoy to Iraq Suresh Reddy reached Baghdad and held meetings with Iraqi authorities.

Swaraj advised all those stranded in Iraq not to venture out of their homes. Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal along with 24 family members of those kidnapped today met Swaraj who advised them to have faith in Government's efforts.

Iraq is witnessing serious strife with Sunni militants, backed by Al-Qaida, capturing two key cities and marching towards Baghdad. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced in the nine days of fighting.

Asserting that it was doing everything possible to secure release of the kidnapped Indians, the MEA spokesperson said Indian embassy in Baghdad was "persistently" following the matter with Iraqi authorities.

"Every avenue will be pursued. Every channel will be examined. We will utilise every opportunity to ensure safety and security of our nationals," he said.

The kidnapped workers, mostly from Punjab and other parts of northern India, were employed by Tariq Noor al-Huda construction company in Mosul.

Some of their family members said they had spoken with their relatives and they said they were safe.

On apprehensions of relatives of some Indians kidnapped and stranded in Iraq that it may be difficult for them to return as their passports had been taken away by their employers, Akbaruddin said documentation will not be an issue.

He said Indian mission in Baghdad continues to assist the Indians who would like to leave the country, even those who are from areas where security was not tenuous.

India is also in touch with various humanitarian agencies, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and Iraqi government to gather more information about the kidnapping.

Government was also in touch with the 46 nurses who are stranded in Tikrit town, which was also taken over by ISIS militants. In response to a request by the Indian embassy, International Red Crescent had contacted the nurses.

The spokesperson said it was difficult to use surface transport to rescue those stranded in violence-hit areas.

"In those areas, it is difficult to use surface transport. We are looking at various options on this and we will examine the best possible option taking into consideration views of the local authorities as well as the ground situation," he said.

He said the round-the-clock control room set up here on Tuesday to provide information on Iraq has received a total of 130 calls including 15 from Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Haryana government said 16 people from the state are stranded in Iraq.

Swaraj said she was also in touch with Kerala Chief Minister Oomen Chandy and had informed him about the safety of nurses lodged inside a hospital in the troubled area.

"There are 45 nurses from Kerala. All nurses from Kerala are safe. They are inside a hospital. I have been in touch with (Oomen) Chandy and informed him about the Kerala nurses," she said.

She said a total of 20,000 Indians were residing in Iraq. "Our advisory to all those stranded in Iraq is that they should remain inside their houses and not venture outside as it was dangerous to do so," she said.

"Once the situation turns normal, any one(of those stranded) who wishes to return to India, government will bear the cost of their air ticket, issue a new passport and take care of their food. It will be taken care of by Government of India. But let the situation be normal first," she said.

Assuring the family members of the kidnapped, she said, "I have asked them to be patient, pray to God and allow us to make our efforts. I am confident that all three things will help us achieve success."

Badal, on his part, thanked the Centre and Swaraj for the efforts made by the government and said whatever information was received, those in Iraq are safe. "I am grateful to them for their efforts... The whole nation is with the affected family in this hour of crisis."

Asked what the government was doing to ensure that more Indians are not abducted in the troubled areas in Iraq, the MEA spokesperson said the government will do everything possible to assist the citizens.

At the same time, he spoke about the difficulties as well as the ground situation, saying institutions have collapsed in those areas and there are no authorities to communicate.

"In situations where there exist no single authority, there exist no established interlocutors, we are trying to do our best that is possible in the circumstances. Let me assure you, we will continue to do our best because this is not about work, this is about ensuring lives of our citizens and we will do everything possible," he said.