Forty Indian construction workers have been kidnapped in the oil-rich Mosul town of strife-torn Iraq, presumably by Islamic militants but no ransom demands have yet been received.
The workers, mostly from Punjab and other parts of northern India, were working on a construction project in Mosul in northern Iraq which has been captured by Sunni militant group ISIS. Reports said that the kidnapping took place while they were being evacuated yesterday.
"Yes, I can confirm to you that 40 Indian workers have been kidnapped in Mosul," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters here.
He said humanitarian agencies and International Red Crescent have confirmed to India about kidnapping of the workers, employed with Tariq Nur Alhuda company, but said there no information about their location.
"We have not received any calls of any nature from anyone who have indicated about ransom or any information that they have taken these people under their control," he said on being asked whether there has been any ransom call.
India is in touch with various humanitarian agencies, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and Iraqi government to gather more information about the kidnapping, he added.
The MEA spokesman said the development has triggered a "very difficult situation" for India which is working with several partners in Iraq as well as elsewhere "to try and see what would be the best ways to take our efforts further".
"We are trying to work with everybody on the ground who can assist us in these difficult circumstances," he said.
Asked whether government was taking help from the US, he refused to get into operational details, saying in an evolving situation the government was not going to share such information.
The government is in touch with the 46 nurses who are stranded in Tikrit town, which was also taken over by the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militants. In response to a request by the Indian embassy, International Red Crescent had contacted the nurses.
The government, earlier in the day, decided to send former envoy to Iraq Suresh Reddy to strengthen the Indian Mission in Baghdad.
Iraq is witnessing serious strife with militants, backed by Al-Qaida, capturing various cities and marching towards Baghdad.
Asked about safety of the nurses, the spokesperson said a "contigency planning unit" was working on "variety of options". He said some of the nurses have conveyed that they want to stay back there.
The External Affairs Ministry yesterday set up a 24-hour control room to provide information on Iraq. The control room has received around 60 phone calls till this afternoon.
On when the Indians were kidnapped in Mosul, Akbaruddin said government was trying to gather more information. At the same time, he insisted that every possible effort was being made to deal with the situation.
"These are difficuilt situations. We are working with the company. Also we are trying to work with International Red Crescent which has confirmed to us (about the kidnapping).
But they have also indicated that at this stage they do not know the location of these 40 Indian workers," he said.
"This is a situation where information is trickling in from various sources. It is the information that we are piecing together here based on inputs received," he said.
The spokesperson said at this stage government was trying to get as much information as possible and was trying to establish contacts in Mosul.
He said around 10,000 Indians are currently staying in Iraq and a little over 100 of them are stranded in violence- affected areas.
The spokesperson said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was also monitoring the situation and has also spoken to family members of those kidnapped.
"We are trying our best on all fronts. Let me assure you that we will not leave any stone unturned in our quest to help every single Indian national," he said.
Meanwhile, asked whether the Indian Air Force has readied its aircraft for evacuating the Indians stranded in Iraq, an IAF spokesperson said the force has not yet received any order or request from the government in this regard.
He said one aircraft in each of the squadrons of transport aircraft is on stand-by for any emergency but no unit has been asked to be ready for evacuating Indians stuck in the strife- torn country.