Govt started looking for bodies just as soon Mosul was freed: Swaraj

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on March 20, 2018 Published on March 20, 2018

External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj flanked by Ministers of State VK Singh and MJ Akbar at a press conference, in New Delhi on Tuesday   -  Sandeep Saxena

Bodies to be brought back to India by Minister of State VK Singh

Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has said that the government began looking for dead bodies of the 39 Indians killed in Iraq immediately after Mosul was freed from ISIS rule.

“With full proof I can say these 39 are dead. We wanted to give the families closure only after concrete proof,” Swaraj told Parliament on Tuesday.

Out of the total 39 Indians killed, 27 are from Punjab, six from Bihar, four from Himachal Pradesh and two from West Bengal. A total of 40 Indians were kidnapped by ISIS in June 2014, out of which one, Harjit Masih, is believed to have escaped posing as a Muslim through Bangladesh.

“We started looking for the bodies immediately after Mosul got freed. When no news came from there we started looking for mass graves … When we came to know that the bodies have all been buried inside a mound, we not only used a deep penetration radar (DPR) but we had the bodies exhumed and that is when we found strands of long hair as some of them were from Sikh community. The bodies were then sent to Baghdad,” Swaraj said at a press conference.

Refuting claims of mistreatment made by Masih, an Indian labourer who had gone to Iraq for work, Swaraj said he was never harassed by the government and that he was kept in protective custody. She also said it was not possible to declare all 39 dead based on Masih’s claims as the government has to follow proper procedures to do so.

Masih, a resident of Gurdaspur, Punjab, claimed in 2015 that he had witnessed the killing of the 39 Indians by ISIS fighters.

“Harjit Masih is an individual, but we are a government. We need to have proper proofs. We had to have the DNA certificates with us. We are a responsible government, we do not believe in the missing-to-be-killed policy,” she added.

Mosul was freed in July last year and after that the government came to know about a mound located in Badoosh where ISIS was believed to have buried the bodies, Swaraj had earlier told the Parliament.

The bodies were then sent to Baghdad, their DNA testing began and the Indian government started sending DNA samples of their kin from September 2017 onwards.

The testing was done by Iraq-based Martyrs Foundation, a state-run institution of the Iraqi Council of Ministers.

Families’ complaint

Families of the deceased also complained that the government informed Parliament first and not them.

“This is the protocol that if anything urgent needs to be disclosed to the country, the Parliament has to be first informed and then others. I had promised to disclose the matter within less than 24 hours of getting concrete proofs,” she said adding that in July last year when the matter had come to light that the 39 Indians are dead, she did not have a concrete proof.

She added that the Martyrs Foundation will be holding a press conference on the issue on Wednesday.

The bodies will now be brought to India by Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh and handed over to the respective State governments. It will be flown in a special aircraft which will first land in Amritsar or Jalandhar, followed by Patna and then Kolkata, Swaraj said.

Highlighting the tragic incident Swaraj once again urged the UN to reach an agreement on Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) so that terrorist elements like ISIS can be fought by all countries in unison.

The Minister also expressed concerns that she was not able to make a statement on this matter in the Lok Sabha due to constant interruptions by the Opposition parties.

Published on March 20, 2018

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