New Delhi,RUKMINI S: India’s top security and intelligence agencies consistently refuse to give out any…
New Delhi: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday told both houses of parliament that “six sources” have told the government of India that the 39 Indian construction workers in ISIS custody were safe and alive. Swaraj’s statement, however, spoke of the utter failure of Indian intelligence agencies to make direct contact with the IS, resulting in the government’s complete dependence on second and third parties to speak on its behalf with the IS.
Swaraj said India has posted two Arabic-speaking foreign service officials in Baghdad, solely to secure the release of the 39 construction workers, but so far they seem to have made not much progress.
“It is a complete intelligence failure,” said Ajay Sahni, an expert on counter-terrorism who edits the South Asian Intelligence Review. “It is more than five months now but India has failed to make contact. That speaks of the failure of intelligence agencies. The National Security Guard (NSG) visited Syria and the region more than a couple of times on this issue, but couldn’t get far.”
Swaraj said she could name only one of the six sources: Red Crescent in Iraq. But dna has learned that the five sources she could not name are the intelligence agencies of US, Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The ISIS is hostile to all these countries, but they have been far more successful in establishing contact with the terror outfit.
A diplomat of one of these countries posted in India told dna that the 39 Indians continue to be in ISIS custody. “They have been put to work as labourers for the Islamic State,” he said. “They could either be in Mosul, or in an IS-controlled area of Syria, possibly Raqqa.”
A TV news channel had on Thursday put out a story that the 39 have been executed by the Islamic State. It based its claim on quotes of two Bangladeshi co-workers of the 39 Indians, who too were held captive by the ISIS but let off later. The duo claimed that a lone Indian worker who survived the IS firing squad had told them of the executions.
But Harjeet Masih, the lone Indian who escaped the IS five months ago, has been in the custody of the Indian embassy in Baghdad. On Friday, Swaraj said Masih was in the government’s “protective custody”, and that his life was “in danger”, therefore “utmost secrecy” was required.
A source in the Gulf, who had helped the Indian embassy in Baghdad to establish contact with the 46 Indian nurses released by the ISIS in June, said there was nothing to indicate the 39 workers have been executed. “The only captive who escaped to the Indian embassy almost five months ago has not once said that his co-workers were executed, or that he played dead, and managed to escape,” he told dna.
Swaraj told Parliament that even if just one source shared that belief, India will not halt efforts. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) told dna it was not aware of any such information.