External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj announced the news before the Rajya Sabha today. Photograph:( Twitter )
The external affairs minister said that deep penetration radar was used to spot a mass grave and it was confirmed that all Indians were dead after all bodies were exhumed
The 39 kidnapped Indians, who had gone missing in Iraq since 2014, are dead, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha today.
Sushma Swaraj said that the Islamic State (IS) had killed all the Indian nationals.
"I had said that I will not declare anyone dead without substantive proof... Today I have come to fulfil that commitment," she said.
"I had said that closure will be done with full proof. And when we will, with a heavy heart, give the mortal remains to their kin, it will be a kind of closure."
"With full proof I can say these 39 are dead," Sushma Swaraj said.
A group of 40 Indian workers, mostly from Punjab, and some Bangladeshi, were taken hostage by IS when it overran Iraq's second largest city Mosul in 2014.
Of the 40 Indians, one Harjit Masih from Gurdaspur had managed to escape and had claimed to have witnessed the massacre of the others. But the government rejected it.
"His was a cock-and-bull story," Sushma Swaraj said adding he had managed to flee the IS by faking his identity as a Muslim from Bangladesh.
The Indians were first kept at a textile factory in Mosul and after Masih escaped, they were moved to a prison in Badosh.
Relentless search for them led to a mass grave in Badosh village in Iraq.
The external affairs minister said that deep penetration radar was used to spot a mass grave and it was confirmed that all Indians were dead after all bodies were exhumed from a mount in Badosh village.
"We used a deep penetration satellite to see a mass grave. We requested that the bodies be brought out, exhumed," Sushma Swaraj said.
"It was a most difficult task to get the proof. Such a barbaric terror organisation, there were mass graves. It was a pile of bodies. To track down the bodies of our people and take them to Baghdad to test was a huge task," she said.
The external affairs minister said that the mortal remains of the labourers were sent to Baghdad and for verification of the bodies the DNA samples of the relatives were sent there. She said that the DNA samples of 38 people have matched entirely with their relatives and the DNA sample of the 39th person matched 70 per cent.
Giving details, Sushma Swaraj said most Iraqis left Mosul when it was captured by the Islamic State but Indian and Bangladeshi workers stayed back.
Inquiries from a caterer revealed that the IS caught them when they were coming back after meals. They were first taken to a textile factory where Bangladeshi workers were separated and sent to the city of Erbil.
The caterer stated that he had received a call from one 'Ali' who claimed that he is from Bangladesh and should be moved to Erbil as commanded by the IS, she said, adding Masih had called her up from Erbil but could not say how he had reached there.
"He had escaped by faking as Ali in the van arranged by caterer" to transport Bangladeshi to Erbil, she said. When next day, a count of Indians found one of them missing, they all were moved to Badosh.
The minister said that her deputy, Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh visited Iraq in search of the missing Indians once Mosul was liberated from the Islamic State last year.
VK Singh, along with an Indian Ambassador and an Iraqi official searched the Badosh prison, the last known location of the 39 Indians.
Commending VK Singh for his efforts, she said the three had to sleep on floor of a small house during the search operations.
Sushma Swaraj had told the families of the workers last year that an Iraqi official, quoting intelligence sources, had told VK Singh that the Indians were made to work at a hospital construction site and then shifted to a farm before they were put in a jail in Badosh.
General VK Singh will go to Iraq to bring back mortal remains of Indians killed in Iraq. The special plane carrying mortal remains will first go to Amritsar, then to Patna and then to Kolkata, Sushma Swaraj said.
The Rajya Sabha observed a minute's silence after the announcement by the external affairs minister and was subsequently adjourned for the day following a ruckus.
Sushma Swaraj wanted to make a similar statement in the Lok Sabha but could not do so because of ruckus created by opposition members.
(With inputs from agencies)