NEW DELHI: Indian nurses, holed up in a hospital in conflict-ridden Tikrit in Iraq, were on Thursday afternoon moved to another location by Sunni militants-led Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). “They (nurses) have moved to another location,” MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin confirmed. “It is for their own safety that they agreed to move out. All of them are safe and unharmed,” he added. Five nurses, however, suffered minor injuries while shifting out when a glass window exploded nearby.
The nurses told their relatives that they believed they were being taken to Mosul but the same could not be confirmed. This brings the total number of Indians held hostage in the conflict zone to around 85, including the 40-odd Indian construction workers who were kidnapped in mid-June.
Tikrit fell to the ISIL on June 9. Earlier this week, Iraqi security forces began an offensive to take over the city but so far they have not been able to enter the region. For the past week, the nurses were being told by militants that they will have to leave the hospital and move under their protection. But as advised by the Indian Embassy, the nurses remained indoors.
The situation changed on Thursday as the rebels giving them a tough choice. “They (militants) told the nurses that they had the choice of the hospital being blown up or leaving with them,” said sources.
In Delhi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy held an ‘extended meeting’ for 40 minutes on Thursday morning. “Both agreed on what the options are and what could be done to turn the difficulty into opportunity,” said Akbaruddin. While it was clear that the ISIL was in no mood to relent on moving the nurses, it was the lack of humanitarian access to the nurses which really tipped the government’s hand.
After a decision was taken at the headquarters, the Indian Embassy conveyed to the nurses that they should leave the hospital. The ministry made it clear the nurses had no choice but to leave and become captive to the insurgents.
Sushma Seeks Gulf Allies’ Help
Sources confirmed to Express that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has spoken directly to her counterparts in Iraq’s neighbouring countries asking for “ground level assistance” to bring back Indian captives in the conflict zone.