Amid conflicting reports over their safety in Iraq’s warzone, fears are mounting back home over the plight of 40 Indian construction workers held by the Islamic State in Mosul with many family members of the missing men saying they have had no contact with their loved ones since mid-June.
Although officials here told The Indian Express they had “evidence” to suggest the men are alive, the Islamic State has staged savage killings of religious minorities in Mosul in recent days while the Kurdish government has claimed it has evidence that “many bodies” have been dumped in mass graves south of the city.
An official of the Kurdish government told The Indian Express today that they had information that “workers, along with many other people were killed by DAIS (Dawla Islami, or Islamic State) and their corpses were thrown into a giant deep hole in the Sahaji area”.
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Sahaji is a village south-west of Mosul on the highway to Tel Afar, on the border with Syria. The Kurdish official, however, emphasised that he could not corroborate whether any Indians were among those killed at Sahaji.
Incidentally, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had told the Rajya Sabha yesterday: “We don’t have direct contact with the Indians. But from other sources we have come to know they are alive and well…I am waiting like a mother waits for her children to return.”
A senior government official here explained that “other sources” is an apparent reference to private individuals, including businessmen, operating in the region. Some of them, who were provided with photographs of the workers, have got back saying the men “are being used as slave labour to haul ammunition and supplies to Islamic State units,” the official said. There are also reports that some of the Indian workers may be produced before local clerical authorities.
Earlier, Harjit Singh Masih, a Mosul construction worker, from the village of Kala Afghanan in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district, claimed that he had seen several Indians fired at by Islamic State insurgents while he fled the city. Masih’s account was, however, treated with scepticism by Indian and Kurdish authorities, who noted it had several inconsistencies. Among them, a claim that he had been shot in the leg, when he had, in fact, been hurt climbing over barbed wire.
Bangladeshi and Arab construction workers who fled Mosul along with Masih also did not bear out his claims of executions of Indians. Masih is currently believed to be in Erbil.
Delhi had hoped the civilian administration in Mosul, drawn from the ranks of the secular-nationalist Ba’ath Party of ousted dictator Saddam Hussain, would be able to keep its citizens in the city safe. ISIS handed administrative control of the city to Hashem al-Jamas, a mid-ranking officer in Saddam Hussein’s military, after his predecessor, Atheel al-Nujaifi, fled Islamist forces.
However, al-Jamas has proved unable to push back against IS’s hardline Islamist agenda. Last month, the jihadist group expelled the last remaining members of Mosul’s 2,000-year-old Christian community, after they refused to convert to Islam. The group also dynamited the Nabi Nabi Yunus shrine, revered by both Muslims and Christians
No direct channels for communications exist with authorities in Mosul, with humanitarian organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross having withdrawn from the city. New Delhi has also been unable to make contact with the city’s civilian administration.