New Delhi, (DHNS) Militants owing allegiance to Islamic State (IS) in Libya on Wednesday abducted four Indians trying to return home from the conflict-hit North African country, where they taught in a university in Sirte — the hometown of slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Two of the teachers who hail from Karnataka — Mulbagal Vijaykumar from Bangarpet and Lakshmikanth Ramakrishna from Raichur — however, returned safely to the University of Sirte, said the government on Friday.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Embassy of India in Tripoli are trying to secure the release of the others — T Gopikrishna from Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh and Balaram from Hyderabad.
“Four Indians abducted in Libya – I am happy we have been able to secure the release of Lakshmikant and Vijay Kumar. Trying for other two (sic),” wrote External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Twitter on Friday. She also briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the situation and efforts to secure the hostages’ release.
The fresh abduction caused jitters in New Delhi, as another group of 39 Indians abducted from Iraq by IS-affiliated militants more than a year ago is yet to be released. Three of the four on Friday were teachers at the university in Sirte in western Libya, while the fourth worked at the Jufra campus of the university.
Gaddafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years, was born in Sirte. He was killed near the city in October 2011 following a mass uprising against his rule.
As the IS militants took control of Sirte a few months ago, the city’s security situation worsened, prompting the Indians to decide to return home.
They were reportedly trying to return through Tripoli and Tunisia, but were detained at a checkpoint around 50 km from Sirte, said MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup in New Delhi. He did not identify the kidnappers.
Sources in New Delhi, however, said the ultras almost certainly owed allegiance to IS.
The Embassy of India in Tripoli came to know of the incident around 11 pm on Wednesday. New Delhi swung into action, despite being constrained by limited manpower in the Embassy.
Most embassy officials had been shifted from Tripoli to Tunis earlier this year in view of the growing instability in Libya and the deteriorating security situation in its capital.
The acting head of the mission, Mohammad Rashid Khan, got in touch with some unidentified “sources”, who told him the teachers had been taken back to Sirte.
This was followed by some informal negotiations through intermediaries over the next two days, and resulted in the release of two, said sources in New Delhi on Friday.
New Delhi had evacuated about 18,000 Indians from Libya in the wake of the uprising against the Gaddafi regime in 2011. Several Indian companies had to abandon projects awarded by the erstwhile Libyan government when the war had escalated. While some Indians stayed back, others returned over the past few years.
As political instability continued and clashes escalated, New Delhi in July 2014 issued an advisory asking all its citizens in Libya to leave the country.