External affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday informed the parliament that 39 Indian labours who were taken as hostage by terrorist organization ISIS in Iraq are dead. She said that the government had information about their death from some time but they didn’t want to confirm anything without concrete evidence. “With full proof I can say these 39 are dead. We wanted to give the families closure only after concrete proof,” she said.
Opposition allegations exploded after the revelation; the Congress accused the government of giving the Indians’ families false hope and misleading the nation. Last year, Sushma Swaraj had told parliament that until evidence suggested otherwise, the workers would be presumed alive.
The minister said in the Rajya Sabha it was confirmed yesterday that the DNA of 38 had matched remains found underneath a mound, one of many in and around Mosul and Badush after their liberation from ISIS. One body was a 70 per cent match.
“We used a deep penetration satellite… It had exactly 39 bodies with distinctive features like long hair, non-Iraqi shoes and IDs,” Ms Swaraj said.
“It was a most difficult task to get the proof. It was a pile of bodies. To track down the bodies of our people and to take them to Baghdad for DNA tests was a huge task,” she informed, commending her junior, Minister of State VK Singh, for supervising the challenging job.
Congress lawmaker Ghulam Nabi Azad reminded Ms Swaraj that she had “assured us last year that the Indians were alive”.
“We never misled anyone. We said unless we have evidence, we cannot declare them dead,” said Mr Singh.
The Indian construction workers, who were from Punjab, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Bengal, were taken hostage when the ISIS overran Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in 2014. The workers were trying to leave Mosul when they were caught.
One of them, Harjit Masih from Punjab’s Gurdaspur, managed to escape after posing as a Muslim.
Last year, Ms Swaraj had told the families of the workers that an Iraqi official had told Mr Singh the Indians were made to work at a hospital construction site and then shifted to a farm before they were thrown into a jail in Badush.
Harjit Masih, the escaped Indian, claimed that he saw his compatriots executed but the government rejected it.
“For four years, the minister had told me that they were alive, I don’t know what to believe anymore,” said Gurpinder Kaur, sister of Manjinder Singh, one of the men killed in Iraq.
Ms Kaur said she had been waiting to speak to the minister but then heard her statement in parliament
More than 10,000 Indians fled Iraq at the height of ISIS violence in 2014. These included nurses held captive by the ISIS in Tikrit and Mosul before being allowed to return home.
(With inputs from NDTV)