AMRITSAR: There was no record of the 40 Indians captured by the terror group ISIS in Iraq in any embassy as they had gone there through illegal travel agents, Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh said today.
Thirty-nine of the 40 Indians were killed by the terror group, while one of them managed to escape posing as a Muslim from Bangladesh.
Singh today brought back the mortal remains of 38 Indians from Iraq in a special aircraft that landed at the Amritsar International airport here. The presumed remains of one of those killed were yet to be positively identified.
"The external affairs ministry started a campaign in 2014 in which we say that one must not go through an illegal agent. There was no record of these 40 persons in any embassy. They migrated through illegal agents. When you go through illegal agents then it is difficult to find where one has gone," the minister told reporters.
The minister said that had the government had any information about these people being in danger, it could have tried to save them.
He emphasised that both the state and central governments should work collectively to ensure the gullible people do not fall prey to illegal travel agents.
"We have told each state that law and order is their responsibility and they should catch illegal agents in their respective states and take action against them...States and the Centre should work collectively in this direction. We do not want anybody to go illegally abroad. We want people to go legally so that we have their record," he said.
He expressed confidence that the Amarinder Singh government in Punjab would take action against illegal travel agents while asserting that there was an "effective" government in Punjab.
To a question on jobs as demanded by the family members of the victims, the minister said that the union external affairs minister had already told family members of the victims to provide detailed information about persons who are eligible for jobs.
Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, flanked with Singh, said the state government would give Rs five lakh each to the family members of the victims.
Besides, a member of each family will be given job as per qualification, he said.
He further said that the state government had been giving Rs 20,000 per month to the family members of the victims who were killed in Iraq.
Sidhu said the cabinet will hold discussion on the illegal travel agents issue.
To a question, Singh said that the Iraq-based Martyrs Foundation had advised against opening of caskets.
"The Martyrs Foundation has told us that the way toxic contents were found (from where the mortal remains were taken out) and the way all this was done (embalming of bodies) when you open the casket it may pose danger and that is why they said it is better not to open it," he said.
However, Sidhu said it is the responsibility of the administration to take mortal remains to their respective homes. "They (family members) can do whatever they want to do with it (bodies). This is their wish," said Sidhu.
Family members had earlier claimed that they had been told by the administration not to open the caskets.
Asked how they were killed, Singh, a former army chief, said that some of the persons were killed by bullets.
"When tests were conducted (on mortal remains) it was found that some persons were killed by bullets and however, in some cases, it is very difficult to say as to how they were killed," said Singh, adding that it was also not possible to ascertain when they were killed.
"But we were told that it could be about one year (ago). But it is very difficult to say whether it is more than a year or less than a year," he said.
The union minister of state also explained about how they located the mound from where the mortal remains were taken out in Iraq.
"We were not allowed to go to Mosul through Erbil as the war was going on. After talking to the owner of the company for which these 40 men were working and others, we got information that a lot of people were buried near a place in Badush.
"We found a mound which was not natural. We sought a ground penetration radar and then we found some human skeletons (in the mound). Thereafter, digging exercise was started to bring out the mortal remains. We got a kara (iron bracelet worn by Sikhs) and long hair and then we thought they may belong to be our people. Thereafter, DNA sample exercise commenced. The 38 samples matched while 70 per cent of one sample matched," he said, adding that he went to Iraq four times in search of Indian men.
To a query, he said that had they got any clue about the Indian men, they could have been saved like nurses were saved in Iraq.
"Do you know about Indian nurses case? We knew about their condition and we asked them to get out of their place (in Iraq in 2014). Initially, they refused to leave the place, saying they were not in danger. But after four days, they told us their hospital was damaged. Then we rescued them. Had there been any information that these persons (40 Indian men) were in crisis at a particular location, we would have rescued them. The kind of situation in which Mosul was, I can claim that nobody could have entered that area in such a situation," he said.