Two Indian Hostages Freed in Libya; Fate of Two Others Unknown

By Altaf Ahmad

2015-07-31
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150731-IN-hostage-620 In Hyderabad, India, a relative holds up a photo of Indian national Balaram, who is thought to have been abducted in Libya, July 31, 2015.
AFP

Two Indian nationals were freed Friday after being held for two days in a part of Libya reportedly controlled by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and the Indian government was working to secure the release of two others, officials said.

“Four Indians abducted in Libya – I am happy we have been able to secure the release of Lakshmikant and Vijay Kumar. Trying for other two," Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said in a message posted on Twitter late Friday afternoon (New Delhi time).

“Welcome news from Libya. Two of the four detained Indians brought back safely to University of Sirte. Our efforts continue for the remaining two,” Vikas Swarup, spokesman for the ministry, where three of the men worked, said via Twitter around the same time of Swaraj’s tweet.

The four Indian citizens were detained Wednesday night at a checkpoint some 50 km (31 miles) from Sirte, as they were returning to India via Tripoli and Tunis, according to a statement posted earlier Friday on the website of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

MEA officials gave no details as to which group had taken the four at the checkpoint. The region around Sirte is known as a hotbed of IS activity in Libya.

The ministry, through the Indian ambassador in Tripoli, was “ascertaining the details regarding the incident,” it said.

“We are in regular touch with the families concerned and all efforts are being made to ensure the well-being and early release of the four Indian nationals,” the statement went on to say.

In March, two Bangladeshi men were among at least nine foreign oil workers abducted by IS militants from the al-Ghani oil field south of Sirte. The Bangladeshis, Helal Uddin and Anwar Hossain, eventually were freed by their captors.

In August 2014, a group of more than 40 nurses who had been trapped by fighting in various parts of Libya returned to India. The month before, a similar number returned to the southern Indian state of Kerala after being held by armed fighters in Mosul, Iraq.

Indians ‘soft targets’ for IS

According to one analyst, Indians expatriates have become more vulnerable to IS activity in the Middle East during the past year.

“The security of Indian citizens in Libya and other parts of IS-controlled areas there has become a serious matter of concern for India,” Joyeeta Batacharya, an expert on foreign affairs at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think-tank, told BenarNews.

“I think by now a ‘wait and watch kind of an approach’ is over for the government and it needs to be much more pragmatic in its approach to ensure the safety and security of Indian citizens staying in countries like Libya for their livelihood,” she added.

In her view, there is a need for greater coordination with countries like Libya, and a government-run crisis management cell should be made more active to deal with such incidents.

Some ordinary citizens also expressed concern over the safety of Indian citizens.

“Indians have become soft targets for IS militants in Libya and the government is not doing enough to ensure their safety there,” Komal Bajwa, a graduate from Delhi, told BenarNews.

“The government claims that 39 Indian construction workers, who remain missing in Iraq for the past one year, are safe. But I fail to understand if the workers are safe, why the government has failed to secure their release,” she added.

The workers, mostly from Punjab, were taken hostage in June last year by IS militants from the Iraqi city of Mosul, amid intensified fighting between the Sunni militants and government forces, according to media reports.

Last year, the Indian government issued an advisory asking its citizens to leave Libya, but a majority of them ignored the warning, according to media reports.

‘Government monitoring the situation’

Meanwhile, a senior leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the government was monitoring the situation and would do everything it could to ensure the safety of more than 175,000 Indian citizens who work in the Middle East.

“We have been issuing advisories from time to time to Indian citizens to make them aware which country was safe for them and which was not,” Abdul Rasheed Ansari, national president of the BJP’s Morcha minority, told BenarNews.

“The government is seriously contemplating forming a comprehensive strategy to deal with the problem and ensure the safety of Indian citizens who go to the militancy-infested Middle East countries for jobs.”

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