A group of 46 Indian nurses who were trapped in an area of Iraq seized by Islamic militants were greeted by tears and cheers from relatives yesterday as they arrived home in southern Kerala state.
The relatives, clutching flower bouquets and hoisting "Welcome Home" banners, thronged the nurses as they emerged into the airport in Kochi, tearfully embracing them.
"We're happy and relieved," one unidentified nurse told local television stations.
The nurses found themselves stranded while working in a state-run hospital in Tikrit when jihadis launched their lightning offensive last month.
It was not clear if the nurses had been abducted and held captive or if they had been trapped and were unable to leave.
They were moved from Tikrit to the militant-held city of Mosul on Thursday against their will, the Indian foreign ministry said.
The nurses told reporters at the Kochi airport they had no complaints about their treatment by the rebels.
"They took care of us," another nurse said.
The nurses had boarded early yesterday a specially chartered plane for India from the city of Arbil, the Kurdish regional capital, where they had been shifted the previous day.
"I thank God for keeping my daughter safe in her hours of peril. She had gone to Iraq to make our lives better," said M.V. Retnamma.
"For the last 25 days, we were praying for her safe return."
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who welcomed the nurses at the airport, attributed their safe return to the "joined efforts" of the foreign affairs ministry, embassies and his state.
"We worked together to get them back and we got a 100 per cent result," Chandy said, adding the nurses' return had been complicated by the "complete disruption of law and order in Iraq".