Forty Indian construction workers were abducted near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul as they attempted to flee a violent rampage by an Al Qaida splinter group, officials said Wednesday.
The Indian nationals were working for the Baghdad-based Tariq Noor Al Huda construction company, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters in New Delhi. Expressing "deep, deep sadness," Akbaruddin said the Indian government had received no ransom demand and ha no information about the workers' whereabouts.
No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping but suspicion immediately fell on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which has overrun Mosul and seized a large portion of northern Iraq in recent days.
"We have not received a call of any nature, asking for ransom or confirming that they have taken the workers under their control," Akbaruddin said.
It was not immediately clear when the workers were kidnapped or where they were from, although Akbaruddin said that most hailed from India's northern states. The International Red Crescent movement confirmed that the workers were kidnapped but was unaware of their location, Akbaruddin said.
Akbaruddin said India "will not spare any efforts to help the Indians in Iraq" and has dispatched a former envoy to Baghdad to assist in efforts to locate the missing workers and repatriate dozens of other Indians living in areas under the control of ISIS. Reached by phone, Akbaruddin declined to comment further.
Of an estimated 100,000 Indians living in Iraq — many of them working in oil fields and construction sites — about 120 are believed to be living in areas struck by the recent violence.
On Sunday, the foreign ministry had advised its citizens "to avoid all travel to Iraq until further notification."
"It's a very serious development, but in my view India's policy options seem to be very limited except to liaise with local authorities to track these people," said Sameer Patil, a national security expert with Gateway House, a think tank based in Mumbai.
Parth M.N. is a special correspondent.