Iraq today said it has no "substantial evidence" on whether the 39 Indians taken captive in Mosul three years ago are alive or dead, while confirming that the prison at Badush, their last known location, has been demolished by terror group ISIS.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had on July 16, based on information gathered by minister VK Singh during his visit to the city after its recent "liberation" from ISIS, stated that the abducted Indians may be lodged in the jail, located in northwest Mosul. "ISIS had seized control of Badush jail.
The jail was demolished. We do not have any details on whether the Indians went under the rubble. We will continue to look for more details about them," Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told a press conference here. He said Singh's information, that the Indians were lodged in the jail, was based on inputs gathered before its demolition.
The issue was raised by Swaraj during extensive talks with al-Jaafari, who began a five-day India visit today, nearly two weeks after Mosul's liberation by Iraqi forces. "We don't know whether they are dead or alive. We are equally concerned. There is no substantial evidence whether they are alive or not. We are making the best efforts," he said.
The minister said the Iraqi government will make all possible efforts to trace the Indians, while expressing hope that they are alive. "My deep compassion and sympathy are with the families of the Indians. I consider them as my children," he said, while praising Swaraj for her "persistent efforts" in following up the case. "We will do our utmost in the case, but it may take time," he said. He also observed that ISIS had a strategy of shifting prisoners from one place to another and of spreading fake news.
Asked about the fate of ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who as per recent reports has been killed, al-Jafaari said that the Iraqi government was not "100 per cent certain" and that it was in the process of obtaining details, including his DNA to ascertain if he was dead. In a meeting with the relatives of the abducted Indians last week, Swaraj had said they might be languishing in a jail in Badush in northwest of Mosul where fighting was going on.
However, a media report from Badush on Friday said the jail is now an abandoned structure and has been unoccupied for weeks. Swaraj is likely to make a detailed statement in Parliament tomorrow about her meeting with her Iraqi counterpart. In the talks, Swaraj and al-Jaafari decided to take steps to boost cooperation in areas of education, trade, energy and healthcare, official sources said.
The volume of bilateral trade in 2016-17 was nearly USD 13 billion. Iraq contributes significantly to India's energy security and is the second largest supplier of crude oil to India in 2016-17 with a total volume of over 37 MMT. The Iraqi foreign minister also met Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
India had requested Iraq to locate the 39 missing Indians, mostly from Punjab, after Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul from ISIS. Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh was also sent to Iraq days after the Iraqi prime minister announced victory in the fight to liberate Mosul.