NEW DELHI: Two more Indians, who were working in a hospital in ISIS-stronghold city of Sirte, have been abducted. This brings the number of hostages in Libya to four with two Indian teachers still in ISIS custody for about 50 days.
Indian officials are frustrated that despite multiple travel advisories and personal exhortations, over 2500 Indian citizens continued to work in the war zone, including in Sirte.
It is learnt that one of two Indians, Pravash Ranjan Samal, had even given written undertaking to the Indian embassy earlier this year, that he wanted to remain back despite the advisories and the risk. Ironically, the Orissa native was the chief coordinator for Indian nationals in the Libyan city, helping the Tripoli-based embassy officials to convince others to leave the conflict zone.
“Samal was the one who was telling all the Indians to leave, but instead, he stayed back despite knowing the situation,” said a source.
As per sources, the Indian embassy learnt about the abduction from an escaped Filipino employee, who had hid herself when armed gunmen came to 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 the ambassador Azhar AH Khan herself spoke to the escaped employee. She narrated that ISIS had taken away 10 Filiipino nationals and 2 Indians last week on Sep 8. The other Indian has been identified by MEA as Ramamurthy Kosanam, a doctor from Andhra Pradesh.
Both the Indians were long-term residents – Samal, originally from Kendrapara, had been in Libya since 2002, while Kosanam has lived in Sirte since 1999. MEA officials have apparently informed the family members of Samal, but were trying to contact next of kin of Kosanam.
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. But, even then, there are 2500 Indians estimated to be still working in the North African state.
“After the first kidnapping of the two Indians, the embassy had been in touch with Samal, telling him again and again to leave the country. It is really sad that despite knowing the conditions, they stay back and then create enormous issue for Indian government,” he 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.