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Iraq hostages safe: Sushma

New Delhi, Aug. 4: The 41 Indian nationals abducted in Iraq are “alive and well”, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj told Parliament today, citing information from several sources.

“I can assure you we have documents that prove they are safe. I had shared the details with my colleague Harsimrat Kaur Badal,” Sushma said in the Rajya Sabha. Most of the 41 are from Punjab, where Union food processing minister Badal hails from.

Sushma, who asserted the government was making all efforts to secure the hostages’ release, said this while replying to a calling-attention motion initiated by Congress MP Ambika Soni and supported by 13 others, including Trinamul MPs D. Bandyopadhyay and Derek O’Brien.

Soni had moved the motion claiming there were reports that the workers, allegedly abducted by the Islamic State from Mosul in mid-June, were being made to work as labourers to transport weapons for the outfit.

Soni said that while the government’s statement today mentioned 4,900 Indians had returned, little detail was available on the 41 still missing. “We have no direct contact with them but there are numerous sources through which we know they are alive and well,” Sushma replied.

The minister said she was disappointed with an earlier remark by K.C Tyagi of the JD(U) who had cited purported Red Cross reports to express fears that the Indians may not be alive.

The government, Sushma said, has knocked on every door to get information on the hostages. “We had heard they were going to be released after Idů I am waiting for them like a mother waiting for her sons,” the minister said.

The government is watching with concern the situation in Iraq it terms “critical and fragile” since the Islamic State began attacks on June 8.

Sushma’s statement today was a reaffirmation of another she had made in the Lok Sabha on July 24, but this one came with fresh figures. According to the data till Saturday, over 4,900 Indian nationals were provided assistance to return home, including air tickets for 3,938 of them.

Soni also asked if the Centre had raised the issue with the US during last week’s visit by secretary of state John Kerry. “We have spoken to all agencies, all the people concerned,” Sushma replied.