New Delhi, 3 July-2014, HT: A group of 46 Indian nurses stranded in a hospital in an Iraqi town controlled by Sunni Arab militants has been taken to an undisclosed location against their will, but all of them are safe, the government said on Thursday.
Foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin refused to say where the nurses had been taken or who moved them from the hospital in Tikrit town which has been under the control of al-Qaeda splinter group, the Islamist State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS).
But relatives of some of the nurses, who had been in contact with them over telephone, told HT that ISIS militants had moved the group towards Mosul, a town about 225 km away which they also control.
Shortly before being bundled off on a bus, one of the nurses told HT over telephone that the militants were planning to move them to Mosul.
“We have no other option but to obey them,” said Sona Joseph, the nurse, sounding desperate and fearful.
“Our government wasted precious time. Now they can send enough coffins to take us back.”
In New Delhi, asked if the nurses were now in captivity, Akbaruddin said: “In zones of conflict there is no free will.
“This is a situation where lives are at stake.”
Underlining the potential danger to the lives of the nurses, at least five of them sustained injuries, possibly from splinters from a blast, while being moved out of the hospital compound, said K Johnny, a relative of one of the nurses.
“Of the five, three received head injuries. But we have no idea whether they are getting some treatment,” he told HT.
“Three phones are ringing now but nobody is picking them.
All the nurses are from Kerala. The state’s chief minister Oommen Chandy, who met foreign minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday to help secure safe passage for the nurses, confirmed “an incident” near the hospital in which 2-3 nurses had been hurt. He gave no further detail.
Asked about reports of an explosion near the Tikrit Teaching Hospital as the nurses left, Akbaruddin said he was not aware of a blast, but that some nurses had been lightly injured by broken glass.
He said Indian embassy officials in Baghdad had spoken to some of the nurses as they left Tikrit, the birthplace of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein which has seen fierce fighting this week as Iraqi troops began trying to regain control of the city from ISIS militants.