Forty Indian workers abducted in Iraq

The group had been working for a construction company in the city of Mosul

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Forty Indian construction workers have been abducted in violence-hit northern Iraq but no ransom demands have been made, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

The group had been working for a construction company in the city of Mosul, which has been overrun by militants waging a major offensive in Iraq, said foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.

The whereabouts of the workers, who are mostly from India's northern Punjab and Haryana states, was unknown. Nor was it known who was behind the abduction.

“The construction workers have been kidnapped,” Akbaruddin told reporters.

“We have not received any call of any nature from anyone indicating about ransom or about taking Indians in custody in Iraq,” he said.

“We don't know where they are.”

Humanitarian agencies and the Iraqi government have confirmed to India the abduction of the workers, who were employed by the Tariq Noor Al Huda construction and trading company.

“We are trying to get as much information as possible from anyone trying to give us information from the ground,” Akbaruddin said.

“We are getting information from aid agencies and the Iraqi government and other sources.”

The foreign ministry has set up a 24-hour control room in Delhi to provide information on Iraq and has sent Suresh Reddy, a former ambassador to Baghdad, to assist its embassy there.

A website of a company called Tariq Noor AL Huda based in Baghdad says it was contracted to build a condominium with 1,000 flats, a mosque, schools, roads and a sports stadium in Mosul.

Sunni Arab militants launched an offensive on June 9, capturing the city of two million and a big chunk of territory stretching south towards the capital.

The offensive spearheaded by jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has displaced hundreds of thousands of people as they advance on Baghdad, leaving the Shiite-led government in disarray.

On Wednesday the militants attacked the country's biggest oil refinery as Iraq's premier scrambled to regain the initiative by sacking security commanders and reaching out to political rivals.

The United States, which is mulling air strikes against the insurgents, said it believed Baghdad's security forces were rallying against the assault.

Washington has nevertheless deployed some 275 military personnel to protect its embassy in Baghdad, while other countries have also sought to evacuate nationals and pull diplomats out.

About 10,000 Indian nationals are currently in Iraq with some 100 caught in the violence-hit areas, the foreign ministry spokesman said.

Akbaruddin said the government was assisting 46 Indian nurses stranded in the city of Tikrit, many of whom wanted to return home rather than wait for the turmoil to subside.

He said the International Red Crescent has met the nurses and told them it was not safe to leave the area by road.

“Those who are willing to come back we will assist them to the best of our ability,” he said.

Several nurses have told NDTV and other Indian television stations by phone that they were living like prisoners at a state-run hospital in Tikrit after being abandoned by their employers as well as the military.

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