All 39 Indians, kidnapped by the Islamic State in Iraq’s Mosul in 2014, were killed by the terrorist outfit, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj announced in Parliament on Tuesday, shattering the hopes of their families to see them ever again.

She recalled that she had told the nation she would not declare them dead until she had concrete proof to this effect.

“The government now has fool-proof evidence which suggested that all the 39 Indians are dead,” she said in a choked voice, bringing to an end nearly four years of relentless efforts by the Indian authorities to find them. As many as 31 of these men were from Punjab, while four were from Himachal Pradesh and the rest from Bihar and West Bengal. The four from Himachal are Raj Kumar (Sundernagar in Mandi district), Aman Kumar, Inderjit and Sandeep Kumar, all from Kangra district.

All of them were construction workers employed by an Iraqi company in Mosul.

The minister said the bodies of these people were spotted using deep penetration radar underneath a mass grave in Iraq. The bodies were exhumed and their identities confirmed by DNA tests, she said.

“The bodies were sent to Baghdad for DNA testing. Yesterday, we got information that DNA samples of 38 people have matched and the DNA of the 39th person has matched 70 per cent,’’ Swaraj added.

The workers were taken hostage by Islamic State militants when they took control of the second largest city in Iraq in 2014. The workers were trying to leave Mosul when they were captured by the militants.

Minister of State for External Affairs Gen (Retd) V K Singh had visited Iraq, days after Mosul was liberated by Iraqi forces from the rule of Islamic State. Singh is set to travel to Iraq again in a special aircraft to bring the mortal remains of the 39 Indians back to the country.

Swaraj had met the relatives of the missing Indians from time to time during the last four years and gave them hope that they could be alive. Last year, she had told the families of the missing Indians that an Iraqi official had told her deputy V K Singh that the Indians were made to work at a hospital construction site and then shifted to a farm before they were thrown into a jail in Badush.

One of the captured Indians, Harjit Masih from Gurdaspur in Punjab, had managed to escape from the custody of the militants and return to India. He had claimed at that time that he had been a witness to the killings of other Indians who were kidnapped along with him. However, the government had dismissed his claim.

Shortly after Swaraj made the announcement in Parliament, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh took to Twitter to say, ‘’Shattered at the heart-wrenching news from @SushmaSwaraj that the 39 Indians missing in Iraq, most of whom were Punjabis, are dead. My heart goes out to the families who had been living in hope since their reported abduction by ISIS in 2014. Prayers with all of them.’’

Senior Congress leader and former Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor tweeted, ’’Sad news of the confirmation of the deaths of 39 Indians in Iraq. Thoughts & prayers are w/their families. But why did the Govt give false hope to the nation for three and a half years that the people were still alive? That was disappointing behaviour.’’