39 Indians captured by IS dead: Sushma

Making a suo motu statement in Hindi, Ms. Swaraj said a team of Indian and Iraqi officials found the bodies from a mass grave in Badush.

March 20, 2018 12:08 pm | Updated 03:23 pm IST - New Delhi

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Parliament on Tuesday.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Parliament on Tuesday.

All 39 Indians who went missing in the war-torn Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014 are dead, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj informed Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

Making a suo motu statement in Hindi, Ms. Swaraj said a team of Indian and Iraqi officials found the bodies from a mass grave in Badush and DNA tests confirmed they belonged to the missing Indians.

Forty Indians — from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal — went missing in June 2014 after Mosul fell to the Islamic State. In 2015, one of them, Harjit Masih, managed to flee from the clutches of Islamic State and said all other Indians were killed. But the External Affairs Minister refused to buy his claims then. In July last year, she said she would declare the missing persons dead until she had a concrete evidence.

Ms. Swaraj had last year informed the Parliament that "sources who gave the government the confidence of not abandoning the search for the abducted Indians in Iraq include a head of state and a foreign minister of another country.” She had then refused to disclose the identity of the sources, citing “diplomatic confidentiality.”

Today, Ms. Swaraj reiterated that Masih was lying. "I spoke to him [Masih] in Punjabi. He repeatedly told me to bring him back," she said and added that he wasn't willing to give details of other captured Indians. Ms. Swaraj said she contacted Masih's employer and found out that he escaped from Iraq along with some Bangladeshis claiming that his name was 'Ali'. "A caterer helped Masih," she said.

Ms. Swaraj further said a team of three External Affairs Ministry officials, including Minister of State Gen. (Retd.) V.K. Singh, was searching for the Indians in Badush in Iraq. The officials, with the help of Iraqi authorities, used deep penetration radars based on the information that some bodies were burnt in Badush. The bodies were exhumed and the mortal remains were sent to Baghdad, she added.

A total of 39 bodies were exhumed. "We collected DNA samples from India sent them to Iraq... The tests were conducted in Baghdad. The samples were matching in 38 cases," she said.

Thanking the Iraqi government for all their help, Ms. Swaraj said Mr. Singh would be travelling to Iraq soon in a special flight to bring back the mortal remains of the Indians. She also noted the efforts taken by her deputy Mr. Singh, who was engaged in tracing the missing persons.

Though it is unfortunate that the missing persons were not able to return alive, there is at least a closure in the three-year-old case, Ms. Swaraj told the House.

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