MUMBAI: The special Air India plane carrying 46 Indian nurses who were freed by militants in Iraq on Friday evening has landed in Mumbai.
After refueling, the aircraft that is also bringing back over 100 other Indians who were trapped in the war-torn country, will head to Kochi.
The nurses were taken captive by the Sunni insurgent group ISIS on Thursday. On Friday evening, the government confirmed that they had been freed.
Most of the Indians being brought back on the plane belong to Kerala. The flight is expected to land at the Kochi international airport around noon. Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy is likely to receive them at the airport, where special arrangements have been made to help them.
The nurses had been living in a hospital in Tikrit, the birthplace of former president Saddam Hussein, which has seen fierce fighting this week as Iraqi troops battle to regain control of the city from the Sunni insurgent group ISIS or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
On Thursday, they were forced to board two buses and were taken to Mosul. They were reportedly kept at a hospital there. On Friday evening, the government confirmed that they had been freed. “Hope has triumphed. The nurses moved against their will are free,” foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said in New Delhi.
The special Air India plane sent by India was earlier not granted permission to land in Erbil and had to be diverted to Iran. This was reportedly due to an “information deficit” or because of security concerns in the troubled region, said sources. It finally landed at Erbil at 2 am. After all Indians boarded the plane, it took off at about 4.15 am.
One of the nurses Marina Jose told NDTV at Erbil that the militants had behaved well with them. “We are very happy,” she said and added that she was now looking forward to going home and meet her family.
While the 39 Indian construction workers kidnapped two weeks ago in Mosul remain in captivity. Mr Akbaruddin said there were a “significant number of other Indians” in ISIS captivity. “We will leave no stone unturned to get back our nationals from an extremely difficult situation,” he said.
About 10,000 Indians work in Iraq. Scores of them have returned to India since fighting began. The government says some 900 people are ready to fly home.