India to bring back bodies of 39 workers killed by IS

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, The families say they were led to believe that the workers were alive

The bodies of 39 Indians who were killed by Islamic State militants (IS) in Iraq will be brought back to India next week, a minister has said.

Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj met the victims' families on Monday before making the announcement.

The minister confirmed last week that the DNA of 38 workers matched with bodies found in a mass grave.

Since the kidnapping in Mosul in 2014, the Indian government had always maintained that they were alive.

Davinder Singh, whose brother is one of the victims, said the minister had assured to help the families.

"We were assured all kind of assistance, including the possibility of a government job to a family member," he told Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.

India was engaged in prolonged efforts for the release of the construction workers and even sought Iraq's help in locating them after Mosul was recaptured last year.

But Ms Swaraj confirmed the deaths while speaking in the Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) last week. She added that it was highly likely that the body of the 39th worker had also been found but she said that it was a 70% match.

The families of the victims told BBC Punjabi that they found out about the deaths through TV channels.

Rajrani Sharma, whose husband Pritpal is one of the victims, said she was shocked after hearing the news because she had been led to believe that he was still alive.

"They assured us over and over again that everything was all right - that they were alive and that the government was searching for them," she said.

Image source, Sukcharan Preet
Image caption, Rajrani Sharma (L) the wife of one of the workers with the couple's daughter, Diksha

Ms Swaraj defended her decision to make the announcement public before the families were informed, saying she was "duty-bound to tell parliament first".

Thirty-one of those abducted were from the northern Indian state of Punjab, while the others came from Himachal Pradesh and Bihar in the north, and West Bengal in the east.

In 2014, India had issued a travel advisory telling its citizens to not travel to Iraq, and those already there to leave.

India has been active in negotiating the release of other citizens captured in the Middle East. A group of 46 Indian nurses were freed in July 2014 by IS after being trapped in Iraq for more than a week.

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