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Militants attack Iraq refinery; India yet to contact stranded workers

Baghdad/ New Delhi, June 18 (Reuters): Sunni militants attacked Iraq's largest oil refinery, located in Baiji in northern Iraq, with machine-gun fire and mortars on Wednesday, Iraqi security sources and refinery employees said.

The attack started at 0100 GMT from outside two of the three main entrances to the sprawling facility, the sources said. On Tuesday, foreigners were evacuated from the refinery as security forces braced for an attack on the compound.

The refinery has been under siege since Sunni militants began a major military offense in northern Iraq last week. The fighters aim to establish a Muslim caliphate across the Iraqi-Syrian frontier.

Meanwhile, in New Delhi, a ministry of external affairs spokesman said the Indian government has not been able to make contact with 40 Indian construction workers in the Iraqi city of Mosul, with one leading Indian newspaper reporting that they have been kidnapped.

Syed Akbaruddin, the MEA spokesman, said dozens of Indian workers were living in areas overrun by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and India was in contact with many of them, including 46 nurses. It has sent a senior envoy to Baghdad to support repatriation efforts.

“There are also reports which have been brought to the notice of our embassy that there are 40 Indian nationals in Mosul,” Akbaruddin said.

“Despite our best efforts at this stage, we haven't been able to contact them. So they remain uncontactable.”

Akbaruddin said the government had no “confirmation or verification” of a story in a newspaper that the construction workers were being held by suspected ISIL fighters.

The nurses are stranded in Tikrit, which is under militant control, with many of them holed up in the hospital where they work. Nurses who spoke to the Indian media said they had been treating people injured in fierce street fighting.

Humanitarian group the Red Crescent has contacted the nurses and is providing assistance, Akbaruddin said.


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