Locating the mortal remains of 39 Indians killed in Iraq by the Islamic State terrorists was a Herculean task as staying in Mosul, which remained an ISIS stronghold for long, was still a risky affair due to explosives planted even inside the houses by the terrorist organisation (ISIS).  The city was declared free of ISIS only in December 2017.

Addressing a press conference in Amritsar after bringing the mortal remains of 38 men from Iraq through a special plane at Amritsar, the minister of state for external affairs, General (retired) VK Singh said after the Iraq Army re-captured several ISIS strongholds last year, he first went to the country in search of these 39 men in July 2017. But as the security situation was still not good there, he returned and went to Iraq in October again.

Stepping up the efforts to find out the missing Indians, Gen Singh then located the private company that had employed all 39 missing Indians. A man who used to provide food to these Indians was also located. A campaign was also launched through local TV and radio for getting information from the public about the missing Indians.

Based on the information received from various sources, Indian government found information about a mass grave in Badush, a village northwest of Mosul in Iraq. “We went to Badush with the Iraqi army and found a big heap of soil there. Anyone could make out that it was far from a natural formation. When it was dug in the presence of Indian ambassador, human remains were found there.”

“We found long hair and karas (a steel or iron bracelet) there. From it, we could make out that those buried there could be Indians,” Gen Singh said. Twenty-seven of the 39 missing Indian were from Punjab and many of them were Sikhs. Articles of Sikh faith came handy to establish that they were Indians.

The minister said following this, the bodies were exhumed for DNA testing which confirmed the identity of 38 of 39 missing Indians. In one case, DNA has matched only about 70 per cent, so his body has not been brought to India.

On the cause of death, Gen Singh said forensic experts have said that some of 39 Indian died of bullet injuries. “But bullet injuries are not the same about everyone and even forensic experts are not sure about the cause of death of some others. Their bones are broken, it is difficult to say if they were slaughtered or what was the cause of their death,” he said.

Compensation not like distributing biscuits: VK Singh

Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh courted a controversy by saying that “distributing compensation was not like distributing biscuits”. He was replying to a question from the Press regarding announcing compensation to the families of the victims.