Forty-six Indian nurses who had been held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have returned home. Hundreds of friends and relatives of the women greeted them with hugs, flowers and "Welcome Home" banners.
Government Minister Oommen Chandy, who greeted the nurses at the Kochi airport in the Indian state of Kerala, attributed their safe return to "joint efforts" by India's foreign ministry, embassies and state.
"Hope has triumphed. The nurses who were moved against their will are now free," Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.
The nurses and their family members were likewise elated.
"We're happy and relieved," one nurse told the local television stations.
"I thank god for keeping my daughter safe in her hours of peril," M.V. Retnamma, the mother of one nurse, said. "I can see her alive. For the last 25 days, we were praying for her safe return."
Many of the nurses also told the reporters at the airport that they had no complaints about their treatment by the rebels.
"They took care of us," one said. "We were frightened and tense but they (militants) did not harm us and behaved with us respectfully."
On the other hand, a nurse named Marina expressed different views. "I thought I will never come back. I thought, [in the] last two days I am finished. These are my last days," she said.
The nurses boarded a chartered plane for India early Saturday from the city of Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital. On Thursday, members of the ISIS moved the nurses from Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit to the city of Mosul, also under rebel control.
The nurses were working at a hospital in Tikrit which was overrun by militants from the ISIS.
The Indian government has thus far not revealed how the release of the nurses was negotiated, but Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that risks and "difficult decisions" were made to arrange for their freedom.
Meanwhile, ISIS fighters hold another 39 Indian workers in Mosul, Iraq's second-most populous city and the first to fall in the group's offensive, which has overrun swaths of territory north and west of Baghdad. The Indian government continues to try to arrange their release.
About 10,000 Indians live and work in Iraq. Last month, India's Foreign Ministry announced that it would stop granting its nationals permission to travel to Iraq for work, and advised those headed there for other purposes to cancel their plans. India has announced that it would try to evacuate about 900 other citizens living in Iraq
On Thursday, ISIS released more than 30 Turkish truck drivers after three weeks in captivity. However, a separate group of almost 50 Turks seized in an attack on the consulate in Mosul last month remain in captivity.
ats/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)