External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today said that the 39 missing Indians in Iraq have been killed. She was speaking in Rajya Sabha. A moment's silence was observed in the Rajya Sabha after the foreign minister's statement.
"We used a deep penetration satellite to see a mass grave... We requested that the bodies be brought out, exhumed," Ms Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha.
"It was a most difficult task to get the proof. Such a barbaric terror organization...there were mass graves. It was a pile of bodies. To track down the bodies of our people and to take them to Baghdad for DNA tests was a huge task," she informed, commending her junior, Minister of State VK Singh, for supervising the job in challenging circumstances.
The opposition Congress condoled the deaths but its leader Ghulam Nabi Azad sought to remind the government that it had "assured us last year that the Indians were alive".
The Indian labourers mostly from Punjab, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Bengal, were taken hostage when the ISIS overran Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, in 2014. The workers were trying to leave Mosul when they were caught.
Days after Mosul's liberation from ISIS was announced, minister VK Singh was sent to Iraq.
Last year, Ms Swaraj had told the families of the workers that an Iraqi official had told VK Singh the Indians were made to work at a hospital construction site and then shifted to a farm before they were thrown into a jail in Badush.
The government had been accused by opposition parties including the Congress of "misleading" the families and the country by saying that the prisoners were in jail. Congress's Partap Singh Bajwa had claimed that the jail Ms Swaraj had referred to was in ruins.
One of the captured Indians, Harjit Masih from Punjab's Gurdaspur, had managed to escape and had claimed to have witnessed the massacre of the others. But the government rejected it.
In July last year, Swaraj had told Parliament that there was no evidence to state that they were killed by the Islamic terrorists, adding that she would not commit the sin of declaring them dead.
“If I mislead anyone, what advantage would I gain? What ulterior motive do I have? It is easy for me to declare them dead. Unless I get concrete evidence of their being killed, I will continue to search for them. Because if a person is alive and we declare him dead, it is a sin and I will not commit this sin,” Swaraj had told the Lok Sabha.
In July 2017, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari had said that there was no “substantial evidence” on whether the Indians were alive or dead and confirmed that their last known location, the prison at Badush, has been destroyed by the Islamic State.
More than 10,000 Indians fled Iraq amid the upsurge in violence in 2014, including dozens of nurses who were held briefly by suspected IS terrorists in Tikrit and Mosul before being allowed to return home.