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India says 40 construction workers abducted in Iraq

Forty Indian construction workers have been abducted in violence-hit northern Iraq, the Indian foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

NEW DELHI: Forty Indian construction workers have been abducted in violence-hit northern Iraq but no demands for ransom have been made, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

The group had been working for a construction company in the Mosul area, which has been overrun by militants pressing a major offensive in Iraq, foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.

Humanitarian agencies and the Iraqi government have confirmed to India that the workers, who are mostly from the northern state of Punjab, have been taken but there was no confirmation on their location, Akbaruddin said.

"The construction workers have been kidnapped," Akbaruddin told reporters in the capital New Delhi.

"We have not received any call of any nature from anyone indicating about ransom or about taking Indians in custody in Iraq," he said.

"We don't know where they are. We are trying to get as much information possible from anyone trying to give us information from the ground."

"We are getting information from aid agencies and the Iraqi government and other sources," he said, adding there are "no guarantees on this".

The Indian foreign ministry has set up a 24-hour control room in Delhi to provide information on Iraq and has dispatched Suresh Reedy, a former ambassador to Baghdad, to assist its embassy in Baghdad.

Sunni Arab militants launched an offensive on June 9, capturing Mosul, a city of two million people, and a big chunk of territory stretching south towards the capital.

The offensive spearheaded by jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has displaced hundreds of thousands of people as they advance on Baghdad, leaving the Shiite-led government in disarray.

On Wednesday, the militants attacked the country's biggest oil refinery, as Iraq's premier scrambled to regain the initiative by sacking security commanders and reaching out to political rivals.

The United States, which is mulling air strikes against the insurgents, said it believed Baghdad's security forces were rallying against the assault.

Washington has nevertheless deployed some 275 military personnel to protect its embassy in Baghdad, the first time it has publicly bolstered the mission's security, while other countries have also sought to evacuate nationals and pull diplomats out.

About 10,000 Indian nationals are currently in Iraq with some 100 caught in the violence-hit areas, the foreign ministry spokesman said.

Akbaruddin said 46 Indian nurses were among those stranded in Iraq waiting for the turmoil to subside.

Several have told NDTV and other Indian television stations by phone that they were living like prisoners at a state-run hospital in the city of Tikrit after being abandoned by their employers as well as the military.

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