Even after the funeral of 38 men killed in Iraq’s Mosul by the Islamic State terrorists, the mystery remains over the timing of their death with a self-proclaimed eyewitness, Harjit Masih, and the Union government contradicting each other over the issue.

A resident of Kala Afghana village in Gurdaspur, Masih claims 40 Indians including him were taken captive by the Islamic State on 15 June 2014. Speaking to The Statesman, most family members of victims claimed to have spoken last to them on the same date.

He claims all of them were then taken to a hilltop and the terrorists opened indiscriminate firing at them. Masih claims he was hit in the leg and fell unconscious beneath the bodies of his fellow workers. After that, he claims to have walked to a Bangladeshi relief camp, got treatment at a hospital before being brought back to India by the government.

The Union External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, however, has repeatedly dismissed Masih’s claim as a lie. She maintains Masih had escaped along with Bangladeshis with the help of a caterer using a fake name, Ali.

All this while, family members of missing Indians, 27 of whom were from Punjab, were hoping against hope that Centre’s claim that they were alive comes true.

Back in May 2015, almost a year after their disappearance, on the basis of information received from various sources in Iraq, Swaraj had personally told the family members that all the 39 Indians held hostage by ISIS for nearly a year were “alive”.

But as the assurance didn’t come true, Masih is now again claiming that what he has been telling all this while was true. Some of the family members also believe what Masih had told was perhaps true. Some, however, still doubt his version and say he worked as an illegal travel agent.  In March 2017, Masih was arrested for offences including human trafficking and cheating.

Addressing  a press conference in Amritsar  on Monday after bringing the mortal remains of 38 men from Iraq through a special plane, the Minister of State for External Affairs, General VK Singh (retd) said Masih was lying as family members of at least two of 39 missing Indians have confirmed to have received phone calls from their men after the date on which Masih claims the ISIS killed them.

Singh said forensic experts in Iraq have confirmed that the mortal remains of all the 39 Indians were more than a year old. But there was no definite information as to when the Indians, some of whom died of bullet injuries, were killed by the ISIS.