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The lone survivor on how 39 Indians were killed in Iraq’s Mosul

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In an excerpt from the most authoritative inside account of the abduction of 40 Indians in Iraq, the only survivor recalls the events as they happened.

The morning of June 15 was different. The men who brought breakfast had changed. There were more of them outside, about 30-35 militants, and they spoke sternly. At lunch time they brought two plates of food instead of one. They hadn’t done this over the past couple of days. This was at about 12.30pm in Mosul.

Twenty-nine out of the 40 families that I spoke to maintain that the last phone call they received from the workers was between 2-5pm on 15 June. Most said they were fine and were being looked after and fed.

The only account that was jolting was Kamal’s, the group’s only Arabic speaker.

“He sounded extremely panicky, which is unusual for him. He said, ‘If anyone comes looking for me, if any one wants my identity, don’t give it to them. Don’t give anybody any proof about who I am,’ and then hung up. I knew something was wrong immediately,” says his mother.

At about 4pm, the militants ordered the Indians and Bangladeshis to get into separate groups. “We have the Indian passports, the Bangladeshi passports will arrive later. The Indians must come with us,” they said.

Outside, a truck with a large container waited. When Masih boarded he saw a small blindfolded man with hands tied behind his back. Then the door to the container was closed. Seconds later, it was suffocating. They fanned their T-shirts. Someone passed around a water bottle. There was no air and the truck was swerving from left to right, going over uneven terrain, up and down small slopes.

“We aren’t going to Erbil,” someone said.


When the truck was opened half an hour later, Masih was momentarily blinded by the light. “Get out,” shouted one of the militants. The men scrambled out, one after the other, into a barren landscape. They were in the desert that surrounded Mosul, with hills in the backdrop. There were about 10 trucks with 30-40 militants outside. The sun was lower in the sky; it must have been about 4.30pm. A slight breeze had set in. At a distance stood a communications tower. On the far eastern side was a rail track, Masih recalls.

According to a source in Mosul who was aware of the movement of the workers, the Indians were taken to the deserts of Badosh on the outskirts of Mosul.

“What have you come to do here in Iraq?” barked a man in an ISIS uniform. Nobody responded.

“Get in line,” he thundered.

It was this order that made Masih realise what was going on. “Ab to hamara kaam hone wala hai (This is the end for us),” he recalls thinking.

The men began to cry.

They joined their hands together and begged for freedom.

Nobody listened. They were ordered to kneel on the ground. They pleaded some more.

“Please let us go, please. We will become Muslims,” someone said.

They were again ordered to kneel.

Masih was in the middle of the line; to his left was Samal from West Bengal and to his right was the heaviest man in the group and one of the oldest, Balwant Rai Singh from Punjab. The fighters talked among themselves standing behind the kneeling Indians.

Two men stood in front: one was the man from the container whose blindfold had been removed, the other was an ISIS militant who was holding a camera.

Allah-o-Akbar. Dak. Dak. Dak.

As soon as the first shot was fired, Samal dropped to the ground, in spite of the firing starting from the right. Masih followed him. He buried his face in the gravelly sand and just lay there. Seconds later, Balwant Rai Singh fell on him, pressing him deeper into the ground. Balwant’s leg landed on his back pinning him down. With the weight of a dead man on him, he was unable to move.

“One bullet grazed me. I didn’t breathe, didn’t move, didn’t look up. I just lay there,” Masih says.

He says the firing lasted for about a minute and a half and that he couldn’t hear a thing once it stopped. He lay on the ground for about 20 minutes, playing dead and unable to move because of the weight of Balwant Rai Singh’s body. He turned his head left, he turned his head right, and could see the others lying flat on the ground. There were no militants to be seen. When he stood up, he saw bodies strewn all over the place, facing different directions.

“I couldn’t recognise people’s faces,” he says. “I couldn’t make sense of a thing.” Not far from where he stood one man lay flat on the ground his eyes open looking up into the cloudless sky. He was alive but had bullet holes all over him. He was covered in blood.

“Can you walk?” asked Masih. He waved his hands, gesturing no.

“I joined my hands together and said, ‘Sorry, but I have to go’,” and just like that Masih turned his back on the massacre.


I said ‘I have come this far, at least help me now,’” Masih recalled of his first phone call to the man, on his third night under the bridge, June 18, when the government first acknowledged the kidnapping. Many people who had been held were running from the checkpoint by now. A few Bangladeshis were planning an escape. Masih asked if he could run with them but they looked upon him as a liability. So Masih ran alone until an army van rounded them all up. Afraid he would be thrown into jail for not having valid documents, he made an excuse that he was getting water and slipped out and went to a taxi. From there he called the number again. The asset arrived about 20 minutes later.

He pulled up in a red car, a smart looking man with a receding hairline. He walked straight to the guards. After a brief conversation, he walked to Masih and escorted him to his car, and Masih recounted the entire story.

“Are you lying?” he asked. He asked that question several times.

“No,” replied Masih. “Why would I lie?”

That night, the asset took Masih for a meal at a restaurant and assured him that he was safe. Over the next couple of days, he took Masih to meet various officials in Erbil. He got constant phone calls from Baghdad and New Delhi enquiring about Masih.

Images were sent to the man’s phone for verification, to identify if Masih knew the people in the photos. The asset refused to be interviewed for this story.

Four days later, two Indian officials came to meet Masih. They kept asking if he was lying. To verify his story, they called the Bangladeshis who recounted the same tale. The asset bought him clothes and put him up at his house. After the fifth or sixth night, he went for dinner at about 10 pm. He returned at around 11 pm and told Masih to wake up early and be ready.

He was going to India.

Published by special arrangement with fountainink.

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  1. Harjit Masih had no incentive to lie. His account must have been verified by responsible people. That was four years ago. Time enough to break the news gently to the bereaved families. Why they were kept in a fog of false hope for so long remains unclear.

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