India says 39 workers abducted in Iraq in 2014 confirmed dead

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj

Earlier in the day, External Affairs Minister (EAM) Sushma Swaraj confirmed that all the 39 Indians, who went missing in Mosul in the year 2014, were killed by the Islamic State (IS). Their mortal remains were exhumed and sent to Iraq's capital Baghdad for DNA sample verification.

She said the 39th person whose DNA matched only 70% had lost his parents and matching was done with his other family members.

In a statement given by Sushma Swaraj in the Rajya Sabha, she said that in June 2015, ISIS had kidnapped at least 40 Indians, a terrorist organization in the Mosul city of Iraq. The government had for years said it would only declare the men dead once it had full evidence.

The Congress and the government got into a war of words after Ms. Swaraj accused the principal Opposition party of doing "politics over the dead" and prevented her from speaking on the issue in the Lok Sabha.

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Union Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh is expected to bring the remains of the missing Indians back to the country.

The minister added: "General VK Singh, our ambassador Pradeep Rajput and an officer from the Iraq government together left for Badush... search operations led to a mound in Badush where locals said some bodies were buried by the ISIS". The aircraft, which will carry the mortal remains, will first go to Amritsar where 31 bodies of those from Punjab and four from Himachal Pradesh would be handed over to the relatives.

The workers were abducted in June 2014 when IS jihadists overran large swathes of territory in Iraq and captured Mosul.

Asked why the families were not informed first, Sushma said procedure demanded that Parliament be taken into confidence.

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To determine whether the mound was indeed a mass grave, deep penetration radars were used. According to a report in the Hindu, one of the workers, Harjit Masih, escaped when some Bangladeshi workers who had been abducted were released. Opposition Congress condoled the deaths but its leader and Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad sought to remind the government that it had "assured us past year that the Indians were alive". Iraqi authorities said the mass grave held 39 bodies, but only 38 have been positively identified through DNA analysis.

Swaraj said ID cards, long hair and the kada bracelets traditionally worn by Sikh men were recovered from the grave of the workers, who mostly hailed from Punjab state.

She said that the next logical conclusion would to grant closure to the families by bringing the bodies back. I said this to the government when they kept me in custody for one year.

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