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The real story of Tiger Zinda Hai: How India got 46 nurses back from ISIS

By Vicky Nanjappa
Last updated on: November 07, 2017 14:45 IST
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In 2014, 46 Indian nurses were taken hostage by the ISIS in Iraq.

They were initially stranded at a hospital in Tikrit and later moved to Mosul from where they were freed by the fighters of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The upcoming Salman Khan-Katrina Kaif starrer Tiger Zinda Hai has a similar plot line. With the release of the film's first trailer, we revisit Vicky Nanjappa's account of how the crisis was handled then.

Maureen, one of the nurses stranded in the territory held by ISIS in Iraq, with her kid upon arrival at the Kochi airport in July 2014.
For full coverage on this Iraq crisis, click here.
Photograph: PTI Photo.


The move could be considered as a major achievement for the Indian government.

There are several questions being asked about what suddenly changed the minds of the ISIS militants, and how a decision to release the nurses was taken so quickly. Was there a deal or was it plain negotiating skills with the help of the Iraq Red Crescent and some authorities from Saudi Arabia, or was there money involved? Sources, however, tell that no money was involved.

"It must be noted that the ISIS does not need money as it has that in abundance -- they are worth $4 billion. Moreover, the ISIS considers ransom as un-Islamic. The same was found during the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in 1999, when one of the negotiators was told that Taliban chief Mullah Omar had not approved the demand for money," says a source.

"There was a great deal of negotiation to bring the nurses back. The Indian government had also sought the help of Saudi authorities who too put in a word with the ISIS. However, one must bear in mind that the ISIS was not trying to create a hostage situation with Indians, as they need the skilled Indian labourers, and would want to have them around when they decide to run their 'caliphate'," adds the source.


So, why were the Indian nurses suddenly moved to Mosul from Tikrit, which gave everyone the impression that it was being turned into a hostage crisis?

"The hostage-like situation was created by the ISIS possibly for publicity," says the source. "At first, the ISIS was not ready to let them go and had even moved them to the basement at the hospital where they were stranded. However, on Thursday, they agreed to free them, and this is why they shifted them to Mosul and then agreed to hand them over at Erbil. This is a classic handover which any group would follow," he adds.

"They refused to hand them over in Tikrit, especially when the Iraqi army has been trying to regain control there. Any such handover would not only have exposed their location, but could have led to a surprise attack by the Iraqi army," says the source.

"This is why the nurses were first shifted out of Tikrit and then taken to Mosul, kept at an undisclosed location and then handed over at Erbil, which is a neutral venue," adds the source.

C D Sahay, former chief, Research and Analysis Wing, who handled the IC-814 hostage situation, says the government handled the current matter in a patient manner.

"They never once let out the details of the negotiations; all they said was that the nurses were safe. There were no irresponsible statements, and once the negotiations went through, they were ready to bring the nurse back. B B Tyagi, India's ambassador in Iraq, is a man of great repute. He has the right contacts and skills to oversee such an operation. He shared information with the government, and the government never allowed any sort of frenzy," he says.

Sahay adds that this should be a learning curve for the disapora outside.

"Generally speaking, when Indians living abroad see a crisis like this coming, they should act more responsibly and get out of that country, which would help the government a great deal," he adds.

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Vicky Nanjappa