Govt believes 39 Indians held hostage by ISIS still alive

Govt believes 39 Indians held hostage by ISIS still alive

Govt believes 39 Indians held hostage by ISIS still alive

Government believes that 39 Indians held hostage by ISIS in Iraq are still alive as there is no confirmation of reports that they have been killed, Parliament was told today amid concerns express by members over their fate.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made statements in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha after a media report claimed that the 39 Indians, captured over five months back, had been killed by the dreaded Islamist group.

The media report was based on the statements of two Bangladeshis who quoted an escapee, Harjeet, as claiming that kidnapped Indians have been killed, Sawaraj said, but added that there was no proof to confirm it.

"On the one hand there is one source about which there is no confirmation. Six different sources have informed the government that they have not been killed," she said in identical statements after Deputy Leader of Congress Anand Sharma raised the matter in Rajya Sabha and his party colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia in Lok Sabha.

Asking the House whether the government should go by what one person was saying or believe six other sources, she said as a responsible government she would not like to give up the search till there is any concrete proof.

"We do not accept his statement. Our prayers and hopes are alive. Our search for their safe release is on....It is my duty and responsibility to keep the hope of tracing them alive and bring them home safely," Swaraj said.

She informed Parliament that two more officers, who can speak Arabic also, have been deployed for securing their release besides a senior IFS officer who is already on the job for the last five months.

The External Affairs Minister said she had received written communication from different sources which maintain that the abducted Indians were not killed and that she had shared the information with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Food Processing Industries Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal as most of them were from Punjab.

While stating this, she emphasised that members cannot go by media reports and assume that they have been killed as there is no corroboration to the claim. There is "no solid proof of either they being alive or killed", she said.

A media report cited statements of Shafi and Hassan, Bangladeshis who claimed to have been released by their ISIS captors after segregating them from Indians, to claim that 39 Indians had been killed. They based their claim on what they had been told by Harjeet.

"Shafi and Hassan have made the claim but they are not eye-witnesses and their statements are only secondary in nature. They have not said they were killed before them, they are only quoting Harjeet, who is one source whose confirmation no one has made," she said.

Harjeet was in the group of 40 Indians who had been kidnapped in June but he later managed to escape. Swaraj confirmed that Harjeet, the only escapee from the custody of ISIS, was in the government's safe custody.

"He faces threat to his life and can endanger the lives of others also," she said, as he is the lone persons who has escaped from their captivity.

The government is working in "adverse circumstances" for ensuring their release and have been utilising all resources in the Gulf, including establishing contact with heads of states in the area, the Minister said.

She said there is no issue of anyone trying to take credit for securing their release and government has sought the help of former Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed, who has good contacts in the Gulf countries, to secure their release.

Raising the issue in Rajya Sabha soon after the House assembled, Anand Sharma said government had made a statement in the House on June 22 claiming that contact had been established with the abducted people, seven days after the alleged killing.

"Both the Houses have been misled by the government. If this was known, then why this was not told in the House and why assurances were given to the families of those abducted... How did this happen? Was the government really in the dark and kept sitting and giving assurances?

"With deep sadness, we feel big incidents are happening and the Prime Minister has not even made one statement on the issue either in the country or abroad. The same Prime Minister used to say that we will look into their eye. I know he cannot do anything and is merely making statements. The Prime Minister is answerable," said Sharma.

He said the government should ensure the safety and security of lakhs of Indians working in West Asia.

NDA ally SAD also wanted clarity on the issue. BSP chief Mayawati, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, CPI(M)'s P Rajeeve, TMC member Derek O'Obrien, SP member Jaya Bachchan were among others who expressed concern over the media report.

Raising the issue in the Lok Sabha, Scindia accused the External Affairs Minister of "misleading" the House and claimed that the government had failed to protect the workers.

"If the reports about their being killed long back are correct, then the government has misled the people and Parliament," he said, demanding a "full and transparent reply". He received support from members of CPI(M) and Aam Aadmi Party.
"The government is responsible," Scindia said, adding that earlier the House was told that the release of the 40 workers would come as "an Eid gift".

Swaraj took objection to allegations that she had misled the House. At this, Leader of Congress Mallikarjun Kharge said no one has cast aspersions on her and all were only concerned about the well-being of the abducted workers.

In the midst of the discussion, BJP member S S Ahluwalia said "please stop this discussion as the islamic state is also watching the Parliament session as it is in public."

To this, Swaraj said "such operations depend on complete secrecy. Please don't ask me to elaborate on this. The day I get any concrete evidence, either about what Harjeet has said or six of our sources are saying, I will myself report to Parliament." Earlier in the Rajya Sabha, leaders of all parties expressed deep concern over the matter.

Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said this is a subject on which all were concerned and stood united on the issue. "Let us hope that it did not happen," he said.

Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) hoped the Indians kidnapped are not killed and said there is despair among their families who were given assurances by the government on their being alive.

Taking a jibe at the Prime Minister's foreign visits, he said, "He is moving around the world as if on a victory path and seems to have left Ashwamedha's horse, while soldiers were being killed along the Line of Control. There is despair amongst us and our borders are not safe. There is concern in the whole nation."

Derek O'Brien (TMC) also expressed concerns over reports and hoped they are not true and "there is still a flicker of hope". "Do not give this nation any more long-term pains. We are all concerned on this cause," he said.

Mayawati (BSP) asked the government to take the issue seriously and take serious efforts to secure their release. She also raised the issue of securing the country's borders, citing reports of soldiers being killed along the LAC.

K C Tyagi (JD-U) termed the incident as a diplomatic "failure" of the government and said, "India has no friend left in the West Asia. Diplomatically we have been isolated. There should be a debate on the diplomatic failure." He also praised the policies pursued by Jawaharlal Nehru, which made many friends in West Asia.

P Rajeeve (CPI-M) said the issue is a creation of this government as the shift in India's foreign policy has created such a situation. "The Prime Minister is handling all External affairs matters and is de-facto external affairs minister. Prime Minister should come and answer," he said.

Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa (SAD) also raised concerns over the report saying families of the abducted are worried about their kin and all symathies are with them.

Hoping that the kidnapped Indians are safe, Bhupinder Singh (BJD) said it is a matter of human rights and India should make efforts to set up a World Parliament and raise such issues there. He also expressed concern over the killing of soldiers along the Line of Control.

Majeed Memon (NCP) hoped the families of the kidnapped people have been informed and government should have provided information about the kidnapped of its own even after five months.

Jaya Bachchan (SP) said it is a serious issue and this is no time for making political statements and sought to know what steps government has taken and sought to know if assurances to families of kidnapped have been informed or not.

Sharad Yadav (JD-U) asked what the government was doing to ensure their release and whether reports or true or not. He said the dispute between Israel and Palestine is creating such a situation in the Middle East and expressed concern as a large number of Indians were employed in the region. "There is flaw in the foreign policy and due to it India's strength has come down internationally," he said.

Rajeev Shukla (Cong) also raised the issue of killing of jawans at LOC in Kashmir and what the government was doing on ceasefire violations by Pakistan.