ISIS Terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Indian labourers were abducted along with more than 50 Bangladeshi workers. 2 mounds in Badoosh town seemed suspicious. Mounds were excavated to find any remains of victims who had been in ISIS captivity since 2014

by Manjeet Singh Negi

While searching for the 39 missing Indians in Iraq, former Army chief and Union minister Gen VK Singh received inputs about two mounds in Badoosh town that appeared as if something had been buried there.

The Indian team led by Singh and Iraqi forces decided to excavate the mounds to find any remains of the victims who had been in ISIS captivity since 2014 when the Islamic terrorists started taking over vast areas in Iraq and Syria.

The digging process was to be carried out as if searching for artefacts at an archaeological site.

"When they first started excavating, they found one kada and bunch of long hairs that gave us an indication that these might be our people from Punjab. How many of them would be there was not clear," Gen VK Singh told Mail Today.

As the excavation began, Iraqi authorities started finding human remains. The first Indian who could be identified was Sandeep Kumar from Punjab. The identification of the remaining bodies began as Baghdad forensic laboratories started matching them with DNA samples sent by Indian authorities.

It was only after the identity of all the Indians was ascertained that the families of the deceased were informed about their death.

In June 2014, Indian officials in Iraq had lost contact with 40 construction workers, most of them were from Punjab. They were working at a government construction project in Mosul, Iraq.

The labourers were abducted by ISIS along with some Bangladeshi workers. A few days after their abduction, the Islamic State had released 55 Bangladeshis. One Indian worker Harjit Masih had also managed to flee and contact Swaraj.

Badoosh prison was completely destroyed during the clash of ISIS and Iraqi forces and the government in Baghdad had declared there were no inmates in the prison. Until last year, even the Iraqi government was also not sure whether the Indians were dead or alive.

The search for the 39 people that started in 2014 was carried out extensively under Gen VK Singh's supervision that travelled for weeks in the war zones of Iraq including at times when the fighting between the Iraqi army and ISIS terrorists was on.

"It was not a one-day affair. It required collating all required information. Mosul was declared as liberated in July but I was not able to get into proper Mosul as the fighting was still going on. Therefore, I went in through Erbel with Peshmerga from the other side of Mosul," the minister said.

To fulfil the promise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to search out the 39 Indians, Gen Singh said every input received by the Indian authorities was about Badoosh town, which was the last known location of the Indians.

Masih had claimed that all the Indians were shot dead by ISIS as soon as they were captured but he managed to survive and flee. His story was initially not accepted by the Indian government which was receiving inputs that they were alive.

Officials who travelled with Singh said there were many times when the minister and his staff shared one room, which would double up as conference room for discussing the search operations with Iraqi forces.