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Twin versions on Mosul puzzle Delhi

New Delhi, June 23: India is sifting through two divergent accounts — one frightening, the other reassuring — of the safety of 39 abducted nationals in Iraq’s Mosul, unwilling to completely discount either, revealing New Delhi’s struggle with reliable intelligence on the crisis.

One of the originally 40 abducted construction workers kidnapped by suspected militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who escaped from captivity, has told Indian interlocutors in Baghdad that the abductors may have shot at some of his colleagues.

Officials aware of his debriefing in Baghdad told The Telegraph that the escaped worker, who first reached the Kurdish city of Erbil after fleeing captivity, could not confirm any deaths among the Indians, but indicated the abductors had fired at some of his colleagues.

But Iraq’s chapter of the humanitarian agency Red Crescent and the Indian embassy’s limited own communication with some of the abducted workers suggests that the captives are safe — for now.

“I can confirm to you that they are unharmed as of now,” foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said today.

Unable to physically visit the abducted men and lacking intelligence sources of their own, Indian interlocutors in Baghdad have been forced to rely on non-traditional information sources that, officials said, have frequently offered conflicting versions of events over the past week.

The escaped worker and the Red Crescent — whose workers have visited the abductees and helped Indian officials in communicating with them — have emerged two key sources of information for the Indian government over the past few days.

Indian officials have held multiple debriefing sessions with the escaped worker. “But his versions haven’t been thoroughly consistent — they’ve varied a little,” an official aware of the debriefing said. “It’s very possible that he’s exaggerating his fears because of the trauma he’s been through.”

In contrast, Indian officials are relying more heavily on information from the Red Crescent, which told the embassy in Baghdad today that latest inputs from its workers in Mosul suggest the abductees are unharmed. The Iraqi Red Crescent’s credibility — it has helped save thousands of lives in war-torn Iraq over the past decade — is a key reason why Indian officials are willing to trust its version.

The organisation also has an office in Mosul, manned by locals who know Arabic and likely understand the militants better than the escaped worker, the official quoted above said.

But the foreign ministry and Indian interlocutors are also cautious about completely rejecting what the escaped worker has told them — trying to instead resolve the discrepancies between the two accounts.

“When you’re as short on credible intelligence as we are, you can’t afford to ignore anything,” another official said. “You take everything you’ve got and try and fit it into the puzzle the best you can.”