New Delhi: Thirty-nine Indians kidnapped by the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Iraq’s Mosul in 2014 are dead, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said Tuesday.
The minister confirmed the deaths in the Rajya Sabha and said the mortal remains will be brought back to India by Union Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh.
“General VK Singh will go to Iraq to bring back the mortal remains of the Indians killed in Iraq. The plane carrying the mortal remains will first reach Amritsar, then Patna and then go to Kolkata,” Sushma Swaraj said.
She said the bodies were spotted using deep penetration radar and were exhumed from mass graves. Their identities were confirmed by DNA tests. “The bodies were brought to Baghdad for DNA testing. The DNA of 38 Indians has been matched. For verification of the bodies, DNA samples of their relatives were sent there. Four state governments –Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar –were involved in the process,” the minister said.
The victims – 31 from Punjab, four from Himachal Pradesh and four from Bihar and West Bengal – were construction workers and were employed by an Iraqi company in Mosul.
They were taken hostage when the IS took control of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. The workers were trying to leave Mosul when they were taken hostage. Sushma Swaraj also dismissed claims of Harjeet Massi, one of them who escaped from Mosul.
“He was not willing to tell me how he escaped,” she said. The minister said that she had concrete evidence that he was lying. Massi had escaped along with Bangladeshis with the help of a caterer with a fake name ‘Ali’, she said.
She said the details were revealed to her by Massi’s employer and the caterer who helped him. In July 2017, Sushma Swaraj had said that she would not declare the 39 Indians dead without concrete proof or evidence.
Swaraj said Tuesday she was duty-bound to tell Parliament first about the death of the 39 Indians abducted by the Islamic State in Iraq and the government did not keep anyone in the dark amid criticism that their families were not informed about their relatives.
“Since the session of the Parliament was on, it was my responsibility to inform the House first,” Swaraj said during a press conference.
“I had told the House continuously for three years that until I get proof of their death, I will not close any file. It would have been a sin had we handed over anybody’s body claiming it to be those of our people, just for the sake of closing files,” she added.
Swaraj rejected the allegations of the families of some of the men that they were falsely assured by the central government about the status of their relatives, saying “it wasn’t a falsehood, this was a tireless effort.”
“We had been saying that we neither have the evidence of them being alive nor the evidence of them being dead. We maintained this in 2014 and 2017,” she said.
Why Centre kept us in the dark: Kin
Chandigarh: As they try to come to terms with the bitter reality, family members of the 39 Indians massacred years ago by terror organisation ISIS in Iraq question why the “Centre kept them in the dark” all this while. Heart-rending scenes were visible outside the homes of the deceased in Punjab as wailing family members tried to give vent to their pain having heard on TV, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement that all 39 Indians in ISIS captivity were dead.