Authorities in Iraq confirmed on Tuesday that they had identified the bodies of 38 Indians who were kidnapped by "Islamic State" (IS) in Mosul 2014. Investigators had a 70% DNA match on a 39th body.
The construction workers were found in a mass grave near the village of Badush, northwest of Mosul.
"They were killed in front of my eyes," said Harjit Masih, the only survivor of the massacre. Masih was shot in the thigh but managed to escape the terrorists.
Relatives said they had received panicked phone calls from the victims about five days after the abduction in the summer of 2014. About 10,000 Indian nationals lived and worked in Iraq at that time.
Families had long held on to hope that some of their loved ones might still be alive in IS custody. The Indian government had also maintained that most of the men had survived.
"With a heavy heart, I have to inform the house that [the workers] were killed," External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Indian parliament. "We wanted to give the families closure only after getting concrete proof."
Government gave families 'false hope'
Swaraj was criticized by opposition lawmaker Shashi Tharoor for keeping the families in the dark: "I think giving false hope to people is actually cruel and it suggests a certain level of a lack of transparency on part of the government…if you don't know, say you don't know."
Swaraj responded that it had been difficult to locate the men in such a chaotic environment and with the Iraqi government "in the grip of barbaric terrorists."
Read more: The legacy of the 'Islamic State'
As military victories by the Iraqi government and its allies have reduced IS-controlled territory to a fraction of what it once was, dozens of mass graves have been found like the one outside Badush.
Swaraj said that the men identified this week had been hired to build a hospital in northern Iraq before they were abducted and thrown in prison by IS.
es/rt (AP, dpa)