New Delhi: Forty Indian citizens working for a Turkish construction company near the Iraqi town of Mosul have been kidnapped, India’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said there had been no contact with the kidnappers, and no ransom demand had been received. Over the past week, militants have overrun Mosul and seized wide swathes of territory as they stormed toward the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
It was not immediately clear when the Indian workers were abducted. Akbaruddin said they were mostly from northern Indian states including Punjab, and had been working for the Tariq Noor al-Huda construction company in Iraq.
Relatives in the Punjabi city of Amritsar said they had received phone calls from some of the Indian workers on Sunday, five days after Mosul was captured.
Gurprender Kaur said her brother called and told her the workers were alone, in trouble and needed help. She did not give any further details about that call on Sunday, or say when she had last heard from him.
40 Indian workers have been kidnapped, this is a difficult phase, we are working with the company- Syed Akbaruddin, MEA
Another woman cried and clutched a family photograph as she spoke with Indian journalists in Amritsar about her missing son.
“Our children are in trouble. We want them back safe and sound,” Ranjeet Kaur told Indian TV news agency NNIS. “We want the government to help us.”
There are about 10,000 Indian citizens working and living in Iraq, but only about 100 are in violent, insecure areas, Foreign Ministry spokesman Akbaruddin said.
That includes 46 Indian nurses working in a hospital in the Iraqi town of Tikrit, but Akbaruddin said humanitarian organizations had been in touch with them and they were all safe.
“We are willing to assist any of the nurses who wish to return to India,” he said, adding that “several Indian nurses prefer to stay back” in Iraq. They have all been advised to avoid traveling by road.
India sent a senior diplomat to Baghdad on Wednesday, and planned to bring back some citizens on Friday. The government also opened a call center to take phone calls from worried families with relatives in Iraq. By Wednesday afternoon, it had received 60 calls, he said.
On Wednesday External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin confirmed the news about 40 Indians in Mosul whom the MEA have not been able to contact.
After confirming the abduction of Indian’s, Syed Akbaruddin reportedly said that, “We have not received calls from anyone who has indicated about ransom or they have taken these workers under control”.
“The violence there is not targeted at Indian nationals. We are just caught in the cross-fire. At this stage we have no reports, no confirmation of any Indian national being involved in any violent accident,” the Spokesperson said.
National TV station NDTV broadcast a recording of a phone call with one of the nurses in Tikrit on Tuesday.
“We are afraid. We have no security here,” a woman identified as nurse Marina Jose said over a crackling phone connection. “All the military, police, everybody escaped from here. Only we are here.” She said the nurses were in touch with their families, most of whom are in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
On Wednesday, Iraq’s prime minister said Iraqi troops had launched a counteroffensive as the fighters, led by the al-Qaida breakaway group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, laid siege to the country’s main oil refinery.
Meanwhile, Deputy Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Capt Amarinder Singh expressed grave concern over Indians stranded in Iraq’s Mosul city.
He sought the Union government’s urgent intervention to ensure the safe return of all Indians there.
Amarinder, in a statement issued here, said, “the families of all these people have lost touch with them.”
He said, “the situation is turning dangerous in Iraq, and the Government of India must ensure that all the Indians stuck there are safely evacuated.”
“Besides the 40 people abducted, several nurses working in Iraq have also sought assistance from the Union government which must be provided to them,” he said.
“All these people are trapped in an unfortunate situation and it is our duty to help them out,” he added.
Meanwhile, Punjab NRI Affairs Minister Tota Singh appealed to the Centre to take all possible measures to ensure safety of all Punjabis working in Iraq, keeping in view the
civil war like situation there.
He said that Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has said that she was keeping a close watch on the situation in Iraq and assured Punjab government that all timely efforts would be made to evacuate Punjabis from there.
Singh said the state government is committed to provide all possible support and help to stranded Indians for their safe return to India.
“The state government is constantly in touch with the Central Government, and the Centre has also assured the safe return of all Indian citizens from Iraq,” he said.
Deputy Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Captain Amarinder Singh expressed grave concern over abduction of 40 Indians from Mosul town in Iraq and asked the government to ensure the safety of all Indians stuck there.
He also sought India’s urgent intervention to ensure the safety of Indians, besides return of all its nationals stranded there including those reportedly abducted by the insurgents.
In a statement, Singh said he shared the pain and anguish of the relatives of those kidnapped, most of those belonging to Punjab and other neighbouring states.
Singh said that the situation was turning alarming dangerous in Iraq and the government of India must ensure that all the Indians stuck there are safely evacuated.
He said that besides the 40 people abducted, several nurses working in Iraq have also been seeking assistance from the government of India which must be provided to them.
“All these people have been trapped in an unfortunate situation and it is our duty to help them out,” he said while expressing hope that the government treats the matter as
urgent and ensures safe return of all those stuck and stranded there.