Tears & cheers as stranded nurses return home

Written by Reuters | Kochi | Updated: Jul 6 2014, 20:55pm hrs
A group of 46 nurses caught up in fighting in Iraq arrived home in India on Saturday after briefly being held captive by suspected militants, an outcome celebrated by the newly elected government in New Delhi as an early diplomatic success.

The nurses, mainly from the southern state of Kerala, were met by family members clutching bouquets of flowers and overjoyed that they were home barely two days after being taken against their will from a hospital in the Iraqi city of Tikrit.

"I thought I will never come back. I thought, (in the) last two days I am finished. These are my last days," one nurse called Marina told Reuters TV at Kochi airport in Kerala.

Tikrit, the birthplace of

former President Saddam Hussein, was the site of fierce fighting this week as Iraqi troops battled

to regain control of the city from the al Qaeda splinter group the

Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The nurses had been holed up in a hospital in the city since the Islamic State insurgents and other Sunni Muslim militant groups seized towns and cities across Syria and Iraq in a lightning advance last month.

Many were initially unwilling to leave because of debts back at home, and then were trapped as the fighting grew more fierce.

On Thursday, they were ordered to board buses and driven to the militant controlled city of Mosul, where they were held in a building overnight.

Speaking at the airport, the nurses said they had been

well treated by their as yet unidentified captors.

"They were good people because they did not misbehave

with us. They provided for food, accommodation and whatever we wanted they provided for," one nurse, who did not give her name, told a local television network.

"They were saying you are Indian nurses and we are not targeting you people."

The situation, along with the kidnapping of 39 Indian builders still in captivity in Mosul, has been an early test for the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The government has not given details of the terms under which the nurses were released. But the foreign ministry said it involved multiple diplomatic channels as well as unspecified "very unconventional methods" in its efforts to free its nationals.

"There was an enormous amount of effort that was put in both within Iraq and outside Iraq," foreign ministry spokesman

Syed Akbaruddin said at a briefing on Friday.

Akbaruddin declined to give details of what role Modi's national security adviser Ajit Doval

played in the release of the nurses or in the efforts undertaken to free the builders.

Doval, a highly decorated former police officer and intelligence chief, has in the past secured hostage releases for India.

Nearly 600 Indian nationals are set to come back from Iraq over the next two days, of whom 200 will return by an Iraqi Airways special chartered flight from Najaf to Delhi on Saturday night.