46 Indian nurses who were held captive by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have praised the insurgents for their good behaviour and kindness after a three-week ordeal.
The nurses, who were working at a hospital in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, were abducted by the ISIS rebels last month.
They were then moved out last Thursday against their will and detained in the city of Mosul, 250 km from Tikrit.
Many of them said they it didn’t feel right calling them abductors or terrorists because they protected them in the war-torn country.
“Our apprehension really forced us to hate them. But later we found in such a lawless situation they were protecting us. At their mercy, they could have done anything to us but they never misbehaved or taunted any of us,” said NS Shruti, one of the freed nurses.
“It seems they were under tremendous pressure to protect us. Since they also a feared an attack from government forces they were under terrible pressure,” she said.
They were allowed to make calls to their home initially but once they were shifted to Mosul they were strictly told not to use phone but they managed to call their relatives and that really helped the authorities.
“Those who had more than one mobile phone hid the additional one. And we used to make calls under the pretext of going to the toilet,” said another nurse, adding they were given food and water at regular intervals.
The nurses were freed by ISIS on Friday and a special Air India flight brought them home on Saturday.
“What really scared us was they always covered their faces. They often changed the guard who kept a watch on us. So, it was tough to be friendly with them,” said Sinu Mol.
Mol said language was a big barrier in communicating with them. “There was a Bangladeshi employee in the hospital who knew Arabic. We used to communicate through him. They cannot be called terrorists. They are part of the local government” she added.
Most of them said their seven-hour-long trip to Mosul was most horrifying, leaving the hospital at 12pm in four buses and reaching ISIS’ stronghold by 7 pm.
They said their trucks were intercepted at many points and more rebels entered their vehicles increasing their anxiety.
“We could see half-burnt vehicles and wailing relatives all along. We could really gauge the intensity of the civil war on our way to Mosul,” she said.
Five of them received minor injuries when the rebels blew up the Tikrit hospital after vacating the nurses.
“We don’t have any ill will against the rebels. But the intensity and ferocity of the war really scared us. We never thought we would be back alive,” said Marina Jose.
Harbouring similar feelings is Sandra Sebastian of Kottayam district. She said: “They told us that you are all our sisters. You would not be harmed. But we did not believe them.”
However, Sandra added that she will never go back to Iraq. “We will not go back. There is no question of going back. We are not prepared to endanger our lives once again,” she said.
Sandra also stated how she and other nurses had not been paid for their work for the last four months from the Government Tikrit Training Hospital where she was working until ISIS paid them what they were owed.
Another nurse, Neenu Jose said that they were given proper food on time and were treated well by the armed men.