New Delhi: India on Wednesday said its 40 nationals working for a Turkish construction company have been abducted in violence-hit Iraq's Mosul area, which has been taken over by Sunni militants.
The government is monitoring the situation, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj holding consultations with senior officials. The abduction is a major crisis for the Narendra Modi government that took office less than a month ago.
The external affairs ministry here did not say which militant group has seized the workers. Earlier media reports blamed the abduction on the Sunni insurgents of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who have seized the cities of Mosul and Tikrit in northern Iraq and are advancing menacingly towards capital Baghdad.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the workers mostly belonged to the country's northern states, such as Punjab, and worked for the Tariq Noor al Huda construction company.
He said no ransom call was received and the Iraq Red Crescent "indicated to us that they were kidnapped".
He said the workers' current location was not known. Asked about the safety of the Indians, the spokesperson said they were "trying to establish contact" and that "there are no guarantees".
Asked if the workers were kidnapped while being evacuated, he declined to reveal details.
"Information flow in an evolving situation is uncertain. I can only confirm that they've been kidnapped and we are doing everything possible to bring them back safely," he said.
Akbaruddin said India will not leave any stone unturned in providing help to its nationals in Iraq. He also said that the Indian embassy in Baghdad was not to be shut down. The embassy would increase its effectiveness with former envoy Suresh Reddy being sent there.
On the situation of the 46 Indian nurses in Tikrit, the spokesperson said the Indian mission is in touch with them and the Iraq Red Crescent is ensuring their security and welfare. While there is no air link between Tikrit and Baghdad, the Indian mission is also not keen to evacuate them by the land route.
He said the mission is studying a number of options to bring out the nurses who want to return. Some of the nurses have, however, opted to stay put, he informed media persons.
The spokesperson also said that 200 Indians in Najaf working for a Turkish company were "feeling uneasy" and wanted to return. The Indian mission is working to bring them back, and the first lot would be leaving Najaf Friday.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has also made phone calls to the relatives of a number of people stranded in Iraq. Secretary (East) in the ministry Anil Wadhwa was in touch with international organisations to organise the return of the Indians.
The spokesperson said that while Indians number around 10,000 in Iraq, most of them are in Kurdistan and other safer areas. In Mosul and Tikrit, there are around 100 Indian nationals.
The ministry control room phone number set up Tuesday evening to provide information to relatives on the situation in Iraq has so far received 60 calls from kin, he said.
According to foreign media reports, militants of the ISIL have abducted 60 foreign construction workers, including from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Turkmenistan, near the city of Kirkuk.
The seized workers were building a hospital, Turkey's private Dogan news agency said.
The fighting Wednesday spread to the country's largest oil refinery at Baiji, some 250 km north of Baghdad.