The government on Friday told Parliament it was continuing its search for 39 Indians abducted by the Islamic State in Iraq six months ago despite claims by one who escaped that the others had been killed.
Making a statement in both Houses — the matter was raised by Congress members Jyotiraditya Scindia in Lok Sabha and Anand Sharma in Rajya Sabha — External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said the government had received information from six sources, including the Red Crescent, that the Indians abducted in Mosul in June were alive.
She said there were discrepancies in the account of Harjeet Masih, the Indian who escaped and claimed that the remaining 39 had been killed — this was first reported in August by The Indian Express, which had earlier highlighted the fears and plight of the families of the abducted men. Swaraj referred to the reports during the course of her statement to the House.
Masih’s version, narrated by two Bangladeshi workers on an ABP News programme on Thursday night, prompted the minister to clarify the position in Parliament on Friday.
“The Bangladeshis were only quoting Masih, there is nothing new in this. It is hearsay… While we have no direct contact with the group on the ground, at least six sources have told us that they (abducted Indians) are alive. Now should we believe Masih’s version and discontinue the search or continue our efforts to trace them because there are others who say they are alive? I will go with the second option,” she said.
Rejecting the Congress charge that the government was “misleading” the House, Swaraj said the matter was extremely sensitive and secrecy had to be maintained to make any headway in the search. She said a former envoy to the region, deputed to ASEAN, was told to head back and use his contacts to boost the search operation. “I ask for updates everyday.”
To a query on the whereabouts of Harjeet Masih, she said he is in the protective care of the government which believes he faces a threat in view of his escape. She said the search operation in and around Mosul is not easy since “the group that controls the area (Islamic State) has no government while the government of the country has no control over the area”.
As Swaraj made her statement in both Houses, members across parties paid rapt attention, most in agreement with what the government was doing to trace the abducted Indians.