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Delhi has a pinch of salt, bunch of spies

The Indian Express is withholding the names of the three men identified from the photographs, as well as the others.

Written by Praveen Swami | New Delhi |
Updated: May 15, 2015 3:52:57 am
Mosul, Mosul men, Missing Mosul men, Islamic State, Mosul Islamic State, Indian Government, India latest news New Delhi’s optimism stems from the fact that the Islamic State has not publicised the executions.

Long dismissed as a fantasist by New Delhi — but kept out of view at Research and Analysis Wing safehouses in Erbil, Gurgaon, Bangalore and Noida — Harjit Masih has finally had a chance to tell his version of how at least 39 fellow workers from Punjab were gunned down by the Islamic State outside Mosul.

His story, though, is still being rejected by the Indian government, who is instead backing testimony from a secret network of operatives working for Iraq’s Red Crescent who say they have seen at least three of the missing men alive.

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Masih’s press conference today came nine months after The Indian Express quoted a senior official in the Kurdish government backing his account. Kurdish sources said the missing men may have been among “many bodies” dumped in mass graves south of Mosul. The source told The Indian Express the “workers, along with many other people were killed by Daish (Dawla Islami, or Islamic State) and their corpses were thrown into a giant deep hole in the Sahaji area”.

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However, New Delhi dismissed these claims, too, saying it had confirmation from six different sources that the men were still alive.

New Delhi, sources said, used contacts provided Iraq’s Red Crescent Society — including contractors and businessmen operating in Islamic State-held territory — to search for the missing men, using photographs obtained from their families.

Iraq’s Red Crescent staff reported back, sources said, that they had identified at least three of the men in the photographs — leading External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, in November, to dismiss Masih’s story, and tell Parliament that the government was confident the missing men were still alive.

Red Crescent volunteers, sources added, also returned with several names of Indian nationals not in the list of 39 missing men, but trapped in areas under Islamic State control, some of them apparently from southern India.

The Indian Express is withholding the names of the three men identified from the photographs as well as the others.

But the sources said that these informants had not been able to speak with the men they identified, and did not provide any proof of life on the hostages.

“Its obvious that this isn’t a very reliable means of finding someone”, a senior official involved in the search told The Indian Express. “People’s hair grows, hair is shaved, turbans removed”.

“However, it’s not like there are any better options on offer and the fact is we have to proceed on the basis that the men are alive until there’s some actual evidence to the contrary”.

In a separate effort, two officers were parked in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, to tap local intelligence services. The men retained Masih in the city for several months hoping he would be able to identify any survivors who appeared.

But there has been little breakthrough, help hasn’t been forthcoming “I guess it is understandable”, said an officer, “they have a war to worry about, and important as our citizens are to us, they are not top priorities for anyone else”.

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