Nearly 50 Indian nurses from the southern state of Kerala
have been taken against their will from a hospital in the
militant-controlled city of Tikrit in Iraq, India's Foreign
At a briefing with reporters, Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed
Akbaruddin declined to say who had ordered the nurses to
leave the hospital or where they were taken.
"They are not going of their own free will," he said, when
asked whether the nurses had been abducted by a militia.
"This is a situation where lives are at stake."
A senior aide to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who
spoke to the nurses on Thursday, told Reuters that militants
had forced the nurses to vacate the hospital and board two
buses. Most of the nurses are from the south Indian state of
Tikrit, the birthplace of former President Saddam Hussein,
has been the site of fierce fighting this week as Iraqi
troops battle to regain control of the city from the al Qaeda
splinter group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant
Islamic State insurgents and other Sunni Muslim militant
groups seized towns and cities across Syria and Iraq in a
lightning advance last month.
Indian nurses can earn higher wages in the Middle East than
at home. Some of the nurses in Iraq resisted returning to
India because they had taken out large loans to get overseas
Some critics say the Indian government should have sought to
evacuate the group of 46 nurses in Tikrit earlier, despite
the difficult security situation.
"The Iraqi army is not in control of Tikrit," Akbaruddin
said, adding that the nurses were still in phone contact with
Indian officials. "We have been in touch with humanitarian
organizations and they had, in this instance, indicated their
inability to reach the nurses given the difficulties in road
Two weeks ago, 40 Indian construction workers were kidnapped
in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, and all but one of them
are still in captivity. The workers have been press ganged
into building defensive fortifications for the insurgents,
Indian newspaper The Hindu reported, citing a senior Kurdish
About 10,000 Indians work in Iraq, mostly in areas unaffected
by the fighting, but scores of them have returned to India
since ISIL began its offensive. (Additional reporting by D.
Jose in Thiruvananthapuram, Writing by Frank Jack Daniel;
Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Tom Heneghan)