40 Indians in northern Iraq 'uncontactable'

Members of the Kurdish security forces take cover during clashes with militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Jalawla in Diyala province on June 17, 2014. Forty Indian employees stranded in violence-hit Iraq are "uncont
Members of the Kurdish security forces take cover during clashes with militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Jalawla in Diyala province on June 17, 2014. Forty Indian employees stranded in violence-hit Iraq are "uncontactable", the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, with a newspaper reporting the construction workers have been kidnapped. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Forty Indian employees stranded in violence-hit Iraq are "uncontactable", the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, with a newspaper reporting the construction workers have been kidnapped.

A ministry spokesman said he could not confirm the report in the Times of India that insurgents have abducted the 40 workers in the northern city of Mosul amid a deteriorating security situation.

"Despite our best efforts at this stage, we haven't been able to contact them. So they remain uncontactable at this stage," said spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters. "Beyond that I am not able to confirm or verify reports of a speculative nature (kidnapping)," he added.

"At this stage we have no reports whatsoever, no confirmation, no verification of any Indian national being involved in any violent accident or injury."

The Indian foreign ministry has set up a 24-hour control room in New Delhi to provide information on Iraq and was dispatching a former envoy to the country to assist its embassy in Baghdad.

The Times of India, citing unnamed sources, said the 40, who were working on various projects, were abducted by the militants during an evacuation of the Mosul area.

Since launching their offensive on June 9, the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has captured Mosul and a big chunk of mainly-Sunni Arab territory stretching south towards the capital.

As many as 46 Indian nurses were also 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 Tikrit city after being abandoned by their employers as well as the military.

The offensive has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and sent jitters through world oil markets as the militants have advanced ever nearer to Baghdad, leaving the Shiite-led government in disarray.