More than 40 Indian nurses who were trapped in territory captured by Islamic militants who have overrun much of Iraq in recent weeks are safe and will fly home this week, an Indian official said Friday.
The nurses, 46 in all, had been stranded for more than a week at a hospital in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, which Sunni militants, including fighters from the Islamic State extremist group, captured last month. Officials say the nurses were moved this week to the militant-held city of Mosul farther north.
On Friday, chief minister of Kerala state in India, Oommen Chandy, said the nurses will return home on a special aircraft arranged by the Indian government. They are expected to arrive in the southern city of Kochi.
"We are thankful to the government of India," Chandy said.
The nurses were believed to be travelling from Mosul to the largely autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, and were expected to arrive in the regional capital of Irbil. It was not immediately clear whether they had crossed over into the Kurdish self-rule area yet or not.
"We are waiting for the arrival of the nurses from Mosul in co-ordination with the Indian ambassador," said Nawaz Shadi, the governor of Irbil province. "The checkpoints and the security forces are waiting for their arrival in Irbil and then for them to return to their country."
It remained unclear whether the nurses had been held by the extremist group or were just stranded in their territory. Neither Indian or Iraqi officials have offered any details.
According to the Indian Foreign Ministry, 39 Indian construction workers were also abducted two weeks ago near Mosul and were being held by the militants, but were safe and unharmed.
About 10,000 Indians work and live in Iraq, but only about 100 are in violent, insecure areas.