NEW DELHI: Indian diplomats have lost touch with mediators after ISIS deliberately shut down all communication networks with the outside world for the coastal town of Sirte about four-five days ago, jeopardizing efforts to bring back two Indian professors who were abducted over a month ago.
“We have not been able to get in touch with any of our contacts in Sirte since all communications broke down about four days ago,” sources told Express.
T Gopikrishna and Balram Krishnan were last reported to be at the checkpoint about 50 kilometres outside Sirte on July 29 evening, when they were on way to India. They were accompanied by Lakhsmikant and Vijay Kishore, but were separated during their confinement.
While Lakshmikant and Vijay returned to India in 48 hours, the fate of Gopikrishna and Balram continues to be a worrisome. At that time, officials had suggested that they were separated based on the location of their employment. While Lakshmikant and Vijay were professors in University of Sirte, the other two worked in the academic institution’s branch in Jufra town.
Unable to be in direct contact with ISIS, Indian officials had been putting pressure on the Sirte University officials to get their employees out from ISIS custody. It had worked successfully for the first two Indian professors.
Thereafter, as days passed for the remaining two without any news, Indian officials also activated other channels – “anybody who could be of influence in Sirte”. By influence, it mainly meant Libyans who had relatives still residing in Sirte and could be in a position to directly talk with ISIS commanders.
“But even those links have been broken. They have also not been able to speak to anyone in Sirte. It is a complete blackout,” said an official.
A Libyan news agency, Afrigate News, had tweeted in Arabic on Aug 28 that Sirte was now completely cut from the outside world with mobile and internet networks switched off.
The blackout came in the last days of ISIS’s crackdown and declaration of an “Emirate” in Sirte by the Libyan faction’s spiritual leader Hassan al-Karami.
It is, of course, a difficult time for the families of the two Indians, both from Hyderabad. “They call us every day, and we console them and try to give them hope,” he said. The families have also been in regular touch with former students of the two professors in Jufra, which is out of the fighting zone.
“Another problem is that most of residents and people that we know are now leaving Sirte in droves after fighting broke out and ISIS have clamped down,” he said.
In early August, following conflict over the use of a mosque, clashes had broken out from between ISIS which controls Sirte and the Farjan tribe, which was earlier allied to the Islamic State. ISIS responded with brutal fighting and a series of public executions of dissenters.