Nearly 50 Indian nurses were kidnapped from a hospital in the militant-controlled city of Tikrit in Iraq, according to India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin. He declined to say who ordered the nurses to leave the hospital or where they were taken, but reports suggested the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) was to blame for the incident.
Akbaruddin explained to Reuters, “They are not going of their own free will. This is a situation where lives are at stake.”
A senior aide to Kerala Chief Ministar Oommen Chandy added that militants forced the nurses to leave the hospital and board two buses. Most of the workers are from the south Indian state of Kerala.
Tikrit has been the center of fierce fighting this week as Iraqi troops battle to regain control from ISIS, an al Qaeda splinter group. Islamic State insurgents and other Sunni Muslim militant groups began their assault last month by seizing towns and cities across Syria.
The Indian nurses kidnapped Thursday were trapped in the hospital for a few days before they were taken, according to Al Jazeera. India’s foreign ministry officials explained earlier this week that they were in communication with the nurses who “remain unhurt.”
About 10,000 Indian nationals work in Iraq, where nurses can earn higher wages than at home. Some of the nurses in Iraq resisted returning to their home country, despite the violence, because they took out large loans to move overseas for work. Some critics believe that the Indian government should have tried to evacuate the nurses in Tikrit earlier, despite the security situation.
Akbaruddin explained Thursday that the nurses were still in phone contact with Indian officials and that the situation was difficult because “the Iraqi army is not in control of Tikrit.” He added, “We have been in touch with humanitarian organizations and they had, in this instance, indicated their inability to reach the nurses given the difficulties in road transport.”
The nurses were kidnapped just two weeks after 40 Indian construction workers were taken in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. All but one of them are still in captivity.
India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj held a meeting with envoys posted in gulf countries Sunday to discuss the crisis involving Indian nationals. She also held a meeting with the relatives of workers kidnapped in Iraq. Akbaruddin later told reporters that the envoys’ countries will assist Indian nationals in Iraq in every way possible.
It isn’t clear where the kidnapped nurses are being held and what will be done to launch a rescue mission.
[Image by kevindean]