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Nurses return home from Iraq

Kochi, Jul 5 (PTI): Forty-six nurses, who were held captive by Islamic State for Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in Iraq, returned home on Saturday by a special Air India flight to a happy reunion with their families here, bringing to an end their about month-long ordeal.

The special aircraft, which also had on board about 137 others, touched down the tarmac at the Kochi International Airport at 11.57 am, a senior airport official said.

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy whose co-ordinated effort with the Union Government that ensured liberty to nurses from his state, besides another who hails from Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, received them at the airport.

Family members of nurses, on whose face relief was writ large, had assembled in large numbers to see their beloved ones return and were joined by political leaders from BJP and Congress at the airport.

The ordeal of the nurses, who were working at a hospital in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, began when ISIS militants launched an offensive in that region on ninth June.

Even as Indian authorities continued to maintain constant touch with their counterparts at Iraq for safe release of nurses, they were moved out on Thursday against their will and detained in the militant-held city of Mosul.

Efforts by External Affairs Ministry led to setting free the nurses held in captivity and they were transported in buses to Erbil International airport on Friday.

The special flight that left Erbil in the early hours of Saturday arrived at Mumbai for a brief stop over for refuelling and catering supplies.

Besides the nurses, the flight also carried 137 other Indian nationals, including 70 from Kirkuk in the northern part of Iraq, 23 crew members and three government officials, including a joint-secretary level IFS officer and an IAS woman officer from Kerala.

Chandy thanked the Centre, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Indian Embassy in Iraq and MEA for ensuring the return of nurses from strife-hit Iraq.

”The Centre has acted in complete understanding of the deep anxieties of Kerala. The Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Embassy in Iraq have made sincere efforts in securing release of the nurses,” Chandy told reporters here.

Kerala Government has made arrangements to enable nurses to reach their respective destinations across the state.