MoS for External Affairs V K Singh said that Indian embassy in Baghdad did not have any record of the 40 Indians captured by the terror group Islamic State in Iraq in 2014 as they had gone there through illegal travel agents.
The mortal remains of 38 of the 39 Indians killed in war-torn Iraq were brought back on Monday in a special aircraft and handed over to their relatives or local authorities in Amritsar, Kolkata and Patna.
Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh, who brought back the bodies from Baghdad, told reporters in Amritsar that Indian embassy did not have any record of the 40 Indians captured by the terror group Islamic State in Iraq in 2014 as they had gone there through illegal travel agents.
The minister said that had the government had any information about these people being in danger, it would have rescued them as it had done in case of over 45 Indian nurses in 2014.
39 of the 40 Indian labourers were killed by the terror group, while one of them managed to escape posing as a Muslim from Bangladesh.
Out of the 39 killed, 27 hailed from Punjab, four from Himachal Pradesh, six from Bihar and two from West Bengal. The special aircraft carrying the mortal remains of 38 Indians in caskets landed at the Amritsar international airport around 2.30 pm.
The presumed remains of one man from Bihar were yet to be conclusively identified.
As the aircraft carrying the coffins landed in Amritsar, an air of gloom descended as distraught families looked at the caskets. The remains of the 27 men belonging to Punjab were received by their relatives at the Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport in Amritsar.
Punjab cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu was also present at the airport.
The mortal remains of most of the deceased from Punjab were consigned to flames at their native places on Monday evening, officials said.
The bodies of four people hailing from Himachal Pradesh -- three from Kangra and one from Mandi -- were received at the Amritsar airport by state minister Kishan Kapoor.
The mortal remains would be handed over to their families on Tuesday, state officials said.
The special flight then proceeded to Kolkata, where the mortal remains of two men hailing from Nadia district in West Bengal were handed over to district authorities for transportation to their native villages.
The bodies will be kept at Jwaharlal Nehru Memorial Hospital morgue at Kalyani for the night and the administration will hand over the bodies to the families on Tuesday morning, district officials said.
West Bengal Minister Purnendu Basu was present at the Kolkata airport. The aircraft then left for Patna for handing over the bodies of five men hailing from Bihar.
At the Patna airport, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi received the bodies. The bodies were being taken to their native Siwan district for handing over to their families.
Talking to reporters in Amritsar, Singh, who had gone to Iraq yesterday to bring back the bodies, said it was not possible to ascertain when the Indians were killed.
"But we were told that it could be about one year (ago). But it is very difficult to say whether it is more than a year or less than a year (ago)," he said.
To a question, Singh said that the Iraq-based Martyrs Foundation had advised against opening of the caskets.
"The Martyrs Foundation has told us that the way toxic contents were found (from where the mortal remains were taken out) and the way all this was done (embalming of bodies) when you open the casket it may pose danger and that is why they said it is better not to open it," he said. Asked how they were killed, Singh, a former army chief, said that some of the persons were killed by bullets.
"When tests were conducted (on mortal remains) it was found that some persons were killed by bullets and however, in some cases, it is very difficult to say as to how they were killed," he said.
He said, "The external affairs ministry started a campaign in 2014 in which we say that one must not go through an illegal agent. There was no record of these 40 persons in any embassy. They migrated through illegal agents. When you go through illegal agents then it is difficult to find where one has gone."
To a query, he said that had they got any clue about the Indian men, they could have been saved like nurses were saved in 2014.
"Do you know about Indian nurses case? We knew about their condition and we asked them to get out of their place (in Iraq in 2014). Initially, they refused to leave the place, saying they were not in danger. But after four days, they told us their hospital was damaged. Then we rescued them. Had there been any information that these persons (40 Indian men) were in crisis at a particular location, we would have rescued them," he told reporters.
Singh emphasised that the state and central governments should work collectively to ensure the gullible people do not fall prey to illegal agents.
"We have told each state that law and order is their responsibility and they should catch illegal agents and take action against them...States and the Centre should work collectively in this direction. We do not want anybody to go illegally abroad. We want people to go legally so that we have their record," Singh said, adding that had gone to Iraq four times in search of the Indian men.
To a question on jobs being demanded by the kin of the victims, the minister said the union external affairs minister had already told them to provide detailed information about persons who were eligible for jobs.