NEW DELHI, India – A group of 46 Indian nurses who were trapped in an area of Iraq seized by Islamic militants were set to be welcomed home by anxious relatives Saturday after being freed from the rebel-held city of Mosul.
The nurses found themselves trapped while working in a state-run hospital in the northern city of Tikrit when jihadists launched their lightning offensive last month. They boarded a specially chartered plane for India from the city of Arbil, the Kurdish regional capital, early Saturday and were expected to land in their southern Indian home state of Kerala at noon (0630 GMT) after a stopover at Mumbai for refuelling.
"We all are very happy... We never thought we will come back, that we would come out," nurse Marina Jose told NDTV news channel before leaving for India. "They didn't do anything, they didn't disturb us and they didn't harm anyone. They didn't touch even. They talked nicely," Jose said, without specifying who she was referring to.
Television footage showed anxious relatives of the women waiting at Kochi city airport as well as images of the fatigued nurses, holding their heads in their hands at Arbil airport before boarding their India-bound flight. It was not immediately clear if they had been abducted and held captive or if they had been trapped and unable to leave.
They were moved from Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit to the militant-held city of Mosul on Thursday. The Indian foreign ministry said Friday that the government was not immediately able to share details of how it arranged for the nurses to return home.
Militants led by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group launched their offensive on June 9, and swiftly took control of large chunks of five provinces, sparking a crisis that has alarmed world leaders.