Militants free Indian nurses trapped by offensive in Iraq

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 July, 2014, 1:43am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 July, 2014, 1:43am


Forty-six Indian nurses trapped by a swift militant offensive that has overrun swathes of Iraq were freed yesterday.

Their captivity, along with the capture of 39 other Indian workers in Mosul, left authorities in Delhi scrambling to secure their release in the first foreign crisis for the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The nurses were originally working at a hospital in executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit when insurgents took it on June 11.

They were later moved further north to Mosul, the first to fall in the onslaught, before finally being released yesterday and taken to the nearby Kurdish regional capital of Arbil. The nurses were due to board a chartered plane bound for their home state of Kerala in southern India.

It was not immediately clear if the nurses were actively seized by militants or if they were simply stranded.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin hailed their release, telling reporters in New Delhi that "hope ... has triumphed".

On the ground in Iraq, the army retook Saddam's home village of Aqja in overnight fighting.

Backed by helicopter gunships and Shiite volunteers, the army recaptured the village in an hour-long battle, according to state media and local inhabitants. It lies 8 kilometres from Tikrit, which remains in rebel hands.

Additional reporting by Reuters