The government has confirmed that 40 Indian workers employed with a construction company, mostly belonging to Punjab, have been kidnapped near the seized town of Mosul in Iraq.
There is no information yet on the identity of the abductors, who have so far made no demands for the release of the Indians.
“Yes, I can confirm to you that 40 Indian workers have been kidnapped in Mosul,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters Wednesday.
“We have not received any calls of any nature from anyone who have indicated about ransom or any information that they have taken these people under their control,” he added.
The Indians, employees of Baghdad-based Tariq Noor al-Huda company, are among scores of foreign workers abducted over the past few days as Sunni rebel forces have overrun several towns and the large cities of Tikrit and Mosul.
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While there are over 10,000 Indian nationals in Iraq, government officials said that around 100 are in a precarious situation due to the fighting. The Indian government is in touch with everyone in the combat zone, other than the kidnapped workers.
“We are working with the (construction) company. Also we are working with the International Red Crescent which has confirmed the incident to us. But they also at this stage do not know the location of these 40 Indian workers who have been kidnapped,” Akbaruddin said.
A representative of Tariq Noor al-Huda company told The Indian Express over the phone from Baghdad that the Indian citizens had moved to the Kurdish city of Erbil, which is unaffected by the war, and would be able to move out within a day or two.
The MEA, which through the day refused to confirm reports that the workers had been kidnapped, said in the evening that the International Red Crescent has direct contact with the rebel ISIS, and had helped the Indian embassy in Baghdad get in touch with Indian nurses stranded in Tikrit.
The spokesperson said efforts were on to get as much information as possible on the kidnapped workers, and several groups were being reached out to. “We are trying to work with everybody on the ground who can assist us in these very difficult circumstances,” Akbaruddin said.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had spoken to the families of some of the missing men, the MEA said.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who rushed to Delhi, met Swaraj and said his state was ready to bear all expenses for the safe return of the abducted Punjabis.
“We are very worried. I have met union minister Sushma Swaraj in this regard. I have asked the Centre to make all efforts to secure the safe release of the Indians, including those from Punjab. We are ready to bear all expenses for bringing them back,” PTI quoted Badal as saying.
The MEA spokesperson said there were no plans to shut down the Indian embassy in Baghdad, and efforts were being made to strengthen it by sending seasoned diplomat Suresh Reddy to assist in efforts to trace and rescue Indian citizens.