NEW DELHI: Two Indians have been abducted in Sirte in war-torn Libya even as two other nationals remain in the custody of Islamic State (IS) militants.
One of the two Indians, Pravash Ranjan Samal, originally from Kendrapara in Odisha, was the chief coordinator for Indian nationals in the Libyan city, helping the Tripoli-based embassy officials convince others to leave the conflict zone. “Samal was the one who was telling all the Indians to leave. However, he stayed back despite knowing the situation,” said a source.
The other Indian has been identified by the Ministry of External Affairs as Ramamurthy Kosanam, a doctor from Andhra Pradesh.
According to sources, the Indian embassy learnt about the abduction of the two Indians from an escaped Filipino employee, who had hid herself when armed gunmen barged into the hospital on September 8. “She managed to leave the hospital after two days and found her way to Tripoli,” said an official. In Tripoli, she went to the Philippines embassy, which was being manned by a skeletal staff. On hearing her story, the Filipino diplomats contacted the Indian embassy, where ambassador Azhar A H Khan herself spoke to the escaped employee. She narrated that the IS had taken away 10 Filipinos and two Indians on September 8.
MEA officials have apparently informed the family members of Samal, but were trying to contact the next of kin of Kosanam.
Indian officials are frustrated that despite multiple travel advisories and personal exhortations, more than 2,500 Indian citizens continued to work in the war zone, including in Sirte. After the evacuation operation launched last year, India has been repeatedly telling all Indian nationals to leave Libya, which is under full-blown civil war. “After the first kidnapping of the two Indians, the embassy had been in touch with Samal, telling him repeatedly to leave the country. It is really sad that despite knowing the conditions, they stay back and then create an enormous issue for Indian government,” an official said. Even now, there are around 13-14 Indian nationals in Sirte – one working in the university and the rest in the hospital.
However, Sirte has been under a complete communication blackout since late August, with ISIS cutting off all phone and internet ties with the outside world. “Since then, we had not been in touch with anyone from the city,” said another official.
Confirming the detention of the two Indian medical personnel, the ministry of external affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said on Wednesday that Indian mission was in touch with local people who can help in securing release of the two Indian nationals.
“The matter has also been taken up at diplomatic level. All efforts are being made to ensure the well-being and secure early release of our nationals,” he said.
Sirte’s communication black hole has badly impacted the embassy’s efforts to retrieve the two teachers, T Gopikrishna and Balram Krishnan, whose location are unknown, since they were stopped at a checkpoint outside Sirte on July 29.
It is learnt that embassy have informed New Delhi that a visitor to Sirte, who met with local authorities, have been told that the duo are still alive.