New Delhi: Visiting Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim al-Eshaiker al-Jaafari on Monday said his government has no substantial evidence on whether the 39 Indians who have been missing in Iraq since June 2014 have been killed or are still alive.

The missing Indians were among a group of more than 40 taken captive by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Mosul when the terrorist group overran the city.

“We don’t know whether they are dead or alive. We are equally concerned. There is no substantial evidence whether they are alive or not. We are making the best efforts," al-Jaafari told reporters after meeting Indian petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

Al-Jaafari began his five-day visit to India on Monday with a meeting with Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, who also discussed the fate of the 39 Indians, mostly labourers from Punjab. No details of the talks between al-Jaafari and Swaraj were available. The foreign minister was to make a statement in Parliament on Monday but that has been postponed.

Earlier this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated the armed forces for their “victory" over ISIS, three years after the hardline Sunni Islamist group took Mosul. The ISIS is also reported to be losing ground in Raqqa, a city in Syria, from where it planned global attacks.

The liberation of Mosul had raised hopes of India receiving information about the kidnapped Indians. The government has maintained that Indians are alive and it has been engaged in efforts to recover them.

In a meeting with relatives of the 39 Indians, Swaraj had said that they might be languishing in a jail in Badush in the northwest of Mosul, where fighting was going on. She also told the family members that an Iraqi official quoting intelligence sources had told junior foreign minister V.K. Singh—who was despatched to Mosul soon after it was declared free of ISIS control—that the kidnapped Indians were deployed at a hospital construction site and then shifted to a farm, before they were put in a jail in Badush. But a report in the Hindustan Times on Saturday said the Badush prison had been razed to the ground in the fighting and there was no trace of the missing Indians.

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