The government on Friday dispatched a special Air India plane to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan to bring back the 46 nurses released by their captors.

The plane that left New Delhi in the evening is expected to land in Erbil late on Friday night. It will bring back the 46 nurses and 70 other Indians who have reached Erbil from Kirkuk. The plane, on its return, will first stop at Kochi and later fly to New Delhi.

“A senior Indian diplomat is on that plane and he will ensure coordination between us and the Kurdish authorities as well as the aviation authorities,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

President Pranab Mukherjee expressed “relief and happiness” over the news of the nurses’ release. “I am happy and relieved that 46 nurses from Tikrit have reached a secure area in Iraq. I look forward to their early and safe return to India,” Mr. Mukherjee said in a statement.

“The release of the nurses came about due to enormous efforts,” said Mr. Akbaruddin.

“It’s been a day of dramatic developments. [Some thought] we were moving towards a hopeless end but [we were] full of endless hope. Ultimately it’s hope that has triumphed,” Mr. Akbaruddin said, adding that the nurses were “all safe and unharmed.”

Asked why the nurses could not be rescued earlier, despite their location being known, Mr. Akbaruddin said several of them did not want to leave earlier.

“When this happened several of them had said they didn’t want to leave. When there were opportunities to leave they made that judgment call. Sometimes it proves correct, sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to. Then things deteriorated. When there was no possibility to evacuate them, some of them started changing their view. By then it had become very difficult to extricate them since the land route was not available,” he said.

The land route was dominated by captors and only they could decide when and how the captives could move.

Mr. Akbaruddin said the government would now focus on securing the release of the remaining Indian nationals in captivity, with whom officials were in touch using “very unconventional methods.”

“The success we have had in extricating those 46 Indians makes us redouble our efforts for those [39 nationals] that still are in captivity,” he said. “Let me assure you we will leave no stone unturned in getting back our nationals from an extremely difficult situation where conventional instruments of diplomacy are not available,” he said.

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