17032015Tue

Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

#BREAKING: Dozens of Indian nurses in Iraq 'TAKEN AWAY' by ISIS militants

50 Indian nurses working in the Iraqi city of Tikrit have been taken away "against their will" by an unidentified group, the Indian Foreign Ministry has announced.

Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters in Delhi that the nurses - most of whom are believed to be from Kerala - had been ordered to leave their work at the hospital immediately.

No information is available as to their whereabouts.

"They are not going of their own free will.  This is a situation where lives are at stake", Mr Akbaruddin said.

A senior aide to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who spoke to the nurses on Thursday, told Reuters that militants had forced the nurses to vacate the hospital and board two buses.

Tikrit, the birthplace of former President Saddam Hussein, has been the site of fierce fighting this week as Iraqi troops battle to regain control of the city from the militant group the Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).

The Sunny insurgents have taken over scores of towns and cities across Syria and Iraq over the last month. 

Iraq is home to hundreds of Indian workers, attracted to the Middle East due to the higher wages. 

According to reports some workers, including scores of nurses, had refused to return to India even as violence in Iraq escalated because they had taken out large loans to travel to the Middle East for work.

Some critics say the Indian government should have sought to evacuate the group of nurses in Tikrit earlier, despite the difficult security situation.

"The Iraqi army is not in control of Tikrit," Akbaruddin said, adding that the nurses were still in phone contact with Indian officials.

"We have been in touch with humanitarian organizations and they had, in this instance, indicated their inability to reach the nurses given the difficulties in road transport."

Two weeks ago, 40 Indian construction workers were kidnapped in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, and all but one of them are still in captivity.

The workers have been press ganged into building defensive fortifications for the insurgents, Indian newspaper The Hindu reported, citing a senior Kurdish security official.

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