Union Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday informed the Parliament that 39 Indians abducted by ISIS in Iraq in 2015 are dead. Their bodies will be brought back to India by General VK Singh, Minister of State, MEA.
In June 2014, Indian officials in Iraq had lost contact with 40 construction workers, most of them were from Punjab. They were working at a government construction project in Mosul, Iraq. The laborers were abducted by ISIS along with some Bangladeshi workers. A few days after their abduction, the Islamic State had released 55 Bangladeshis. One Indian worker Harjit Masih had also managed to flee and contact Swaraj.
Masih had claimed that all 39 Indians were shot dead by IS as soon as they were captured but he managed to survive and flee. Masih’s story was initially not accepted by the Indian government and Swaraj had said that there were “sources” claiming the Indians were alive.
In July last year, Swaraj had said his junior BK Singh had learned that the abducted Indians were kept in a Badush prison of Iraq and made to work in farms by the IS.
Badush prison was completely destroyed during the clash of ISIS and Iraqi forces and the government in Baghdad had declared there were no inmates in the prison.
Until last year, even the Iraqi government was not sure whether the Indians were dead or alive.
In the wake of claims that the Indians were dead, Swaraj had told the Parliament last year that she won’t declare them dead without “concrete evidence”.
Watch Sushma Swaraj’s speech in Rajya Sabha
On Tuesday, Swaraj confirmed the 39 Indians were dead and their bodies identified. She also shared the story of how India managed to trace the bodies of the missing Indians, ”
Swaraj said that the story of Masih was fake as he had escaped by using a Muslim name (Ali) along with Bangladeshis.
Here is what Sushma Swaraj said in Parliament today:
Last time when General VK Singh went to Iraq to search the missing Indians, I had told him to first meet the owner of the company in Mosul. There you will get some clues. When he talked to the company owner (where the 39 Indians were working), he said the complete story that there were 40 Indians and some Bangladeshis working for him. When ISIS started capturing Mosul, he told them to leave.
First Iraqis left, then members of other nationalities left but Indians and Bangladeshis remained. Then he (Singh) talked to a caterer who used to provide them food. The caterer said that one day when the Bangladeshis and Indians were going to his place for food, they were spotted by ISIS asked for their identity. When they informed about their identity, the ISIS men took them to a textile factory. There they first separated the Bangladeshis and the Indians. And one day they (ISIS men) asked the caterer to take the Bangladeshis to Erbil.
Harjit Masih asked the owner of the company to give him a Muslim name so that he can go out with the Bangladeshis. The caterer said that he had dropped Harjit (then named as Ali) at Erbil.
Harjit called me from Erbil. When he talked to me for the first time, I asked him (in Punjabi) how he reached there. Harjit said he didn’t know. I said how is this possible. He didn’t say but requested to take him out of Iraq.
Harjit didn’t reply. Later he framed a fake story that fourty people were taken to a jungle and shot at by the ISIS but he survived because he was shot in the leg.
After Ali escaped, ISIS men noticed that there were only 39 men and then decided to take them to Badush. The company owner said they didn’t know what happened after that because he had no contact with them.
VK Singh, India’s Ambassador to Iraq, and an Iraqi official went to Badoosh. There they informed about a mound where a mass grave was expected.
With the help of deep penetration radar, it was ascertained that there were bodies beneath the mound. Then general Singh requested Iraqi authorities to dig the mound and exhume the bodies.
The mound was dug and bodies exhumed and some ID cards, non-Iraqi shoes, long hair were found. The mortal remains were then sent to Baghdad. Before this, we had contacted the Martyrs Foundation for searching the missing Indians. They had asked for DNA samples. We collected DNA samples of relatives of the missing men from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. The samples were then sent to Iraq and they were matched with the bodies.
The first DNA sample that matched was of a person named Sandeep. Yesterday, we were informed that 38 DNA samples have been matched and only 70% DNA of the 39th person has matched because the sample was not directly of the parents but relatives. At 1.30 today, the Martyrs Foundation will do a press conference to explain how they were able to match the samples.
Swaraj said the entire process was extremely difficult. When Mosul was freed, it was littered by bodies. I would like to thank General VK Singh who went to all extent to find all details of the missing Indians and once he even slept on the floor of a house in Mosul. General Singh will bring the bodies of the Indian citizens with certificates of the Martyrs Foundation.