Thirty-nine Indian labourers kidnapped by Islamic State (IS) in Mosul three years ago were massacred by the terrorist group, Indian Parliament was told on Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj (pictured) announced in the Upper House or Rajya Sabha that Iraq confirmed on Tuesday (March 20) that the DNA samples of 38 missing Indians matched the remains of bodies found in Mosul. The 39th body matched 70 per cent.
All along, the government had been waiting for the DNA report from Iraq before revealing the truth, the minister said.
In a brief speech followed by noisy scenes and adjournment of the House, Swaraj said a powerful satellite was employed to spot the 39 bodies beneath a mound in Badush village near Mosul away from the mass graves. The bodies were exhumed and taken to Baghdad for DNA tests. Junior Minister of State VK Singh was in Iraq to oversee the whole operation, the minister said.
The group of Indian labourers, mostly from Punjab, was taken hostage by IS when it overran Mosul in June 2014. The workers were trying to leave Mosul when they were captured by the group. Days after Mosul was liberated from IS, Singh went to Iraq.
Last year, an Iraqi official, quoting intelligence sources, told Singh that the missing Indians were made to work at a construction site for a hospital and moved to a farm before being jailed in Badush.
Later, some Indian journalists who went to Iraq to track the missing labourers found the abandoned jail reduced to a rubble. India’s Opposition parties immediately attacked the government for misleading the nation by giving false hopes on the labourers when they were “already dead”. Harjit Masih, one of workers who escaped the captors and returned to India, told media that he had witnessed his colleagues being massacre by IS.
Respecting the sentiments of the families of the missing, the government dismissed Masih’s claim and waited for the report from Baghdad.
After a shocked nation listened to the televised speech of Swaraj, an ugly scene began to unfold in parliament. Some opposition party members kept chanting slogans over local issues when the Speaker requested the House to rise and observe a minute’s silence for the 39 dead. The speaker was so upset by their behaviour that he threatened to walk out of the House.
The Opposition did not allow Swaraj to continue her speech and the house was adjourned.
Later talking to media, Swaraj blasted the Opposition led by Congress for politicising a tragedy. She said the federal government did not mislead the families of the dead or keep the nation in the dark.
As an individual, Masih can say he witnessed the massacre of his colleagues. As a political group, the Opposition can assume that the 39 missing are dead. But a responsible government cannot endorse Masih’s view. It needs solid evidence to say whether those missing are dead or alive. When families of the missing cited Masih’s claim, the government kept telling them to wait for evidence, Swaraj said.
The government did not leave anything to chance. It explored all options to find the missing., she said.
Swaraj challenged the Opposition view that the government should have first informed the families before making the announcement in Parliament. Informing the House first is the protocol, she said, adding that whenever Opposition questioned her about the case of the 39 missing, she had promised them they will be the first to know.