Thursday, 14 January 2016

Syrian Foreign Minister Moualem: 4 Indians in Damascus jail for "attempting to join IS" via Jordan

Arrested in Syria, four Indian youths ‘planning to join ISIS’

By: Express News Service | New Delhi | Updated: January 14, 2016 1:54 pm


Syria has arrested four Indians who had gone to that country allegedly to fight alongside the Islamic State (IS), Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Walid al Moualem said on Wednesday. Moualem, who is also the foreign minister and on a three-day visit to India, said “the young men” had entered through Jordan and were arrested before they could join the outfit.

“We have arrested four Indians who had come to Syria to fight alongside IS. They are currently in Damascus jail. We have asked Indian authorities to come and see them and take them back,” Moualem said, stressing that cooperation on the front of counter-terrorism and intelligence-sharing was one of the main objectives of the visit.
Muallem is the highest ranking Syrian dignitary to visit India since Bashar Al Assad in 2008.

As many as 23 Indians, six of whom are dead, were suspected to be fighting alongside IS. The fresh arrests could take the count to 27.
Moualem also said that Syria was in no position to help India vis-a-vis the 39 Indians who are suspected to be in IS captivity in Iraq.

“They are in IS captivity. I am sorry, we can’t do anything. You need to ask Erdogan (Turkish President),” said Moualem.

The minister attacked Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for fomenting a crisis in Syria and categorically accused them of supporting terror groups. He expressed gratitude towards Russia for helping Syria fight against IS.

“We are grateful to Russia for military interference in the region. Because of their intervention, 20 bastions (in control of IS) have been liberated. If this continues, we will soon see positive results,” Moualem said. He added that what Russia had achieved in three months was 10 times of what US had achieved in 18 months.

“It is also self-defence for Russia as Chechen terrorists are fighting alongside IS,” he said. Moualem said his interaction with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and NSA Ajit Doval was “productive”, and the crisis in Syria was discussed.

“We believe that terrorism does not belong to any country or nation. What is happening around the world is impacting Syria,” Moualem said. He also accused France and the US for supporting terrorism. “We have seen the effect and impact of terrorism on those who support terrorism such as France, US and Saudi Arabia. That is why international cooperation on terrorism is important. Our point of view has been conveyed to India and we heard complete support from the government,” Moualem said.

He added that the two countries discussed bilateral relations, economic ties and the need to “revive the old ties between the two countries”.
Moualem said Syria would like India to be part of the solution in his country, but did not want its military or diplomatic interference in the region. He said Syria could do with help in terms of food and medicines at the moment. This is the first visit by the top political leadership from Syria since 2008.

The four-day visit to India focused on efforts to enhance bilateral relations in the fields of electricity, petroleum, agriculture, technology and education.
Both sides agreed to fast-track cooperation and work to hold the Syrian-Indian joint committee meeting as soon as possible.

Muallem held those countries supporting terrorism responsible for prolonging instability inside Syria, saying that “a great deal of the crisis will end if Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other terrorism backers respected the UN Security Council's relevant resolutions and ceased their support to terrorism.”
Muallem asserted it is the right of the Syrian people alone to determine their future, adding: “Syria will not let the terrorists, who failed to achieve their goals by means of force, gain them through the political talks.”

For her part, Swaraj renewed India’s support for Syria in combating terrorism, welcoming the Russian-Syrian coordination in this field.
Swaraj also voiced her country’s support for the Syrian government’s efforts on both the political track and that of combating the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations.

India faces a critical choice on the issue of Syria. While India has announced its readiness to send troops to fight the Islamic State under the auspices of the UN, such an action would bring with it the risk of being perceived as "anti-Sunni." Damascus has clearly expressed what it needs is food and medicine supplies. As an agrarian nation, India can do much to help Syria and the Syrian people. However such an action would bring about a perception shift about India's stance on the matter from centerist to pro-government. The distribution of potential Indian food supplies to Syria will receive priority in territory-controlled by the Syrian government. To ensure that both domestic Muslim sentiment as well as India's strategic priority to see the Syrian government survive are upheld, Prime Minster Narendra Modi could use a Twitter approach to ensure that food supplies are delivered, under the eye of the Red Cross, to rebel-held areas as well.

Modi could request Syrian users of Indian raw food products to upload photos of themselves with the items. Such an action would ensure that war-torn areas of Syria facing starvation such as Madaya in southern Syria and Idlib and Aleppo (among others) receive food, something which they have been lacking throughout the conflict. Starvation as a weapon has been used by both sides in the conflict. By providing food supplies but insisting Syrians in rebel-held areas also receive the benefit of Indian humanitarian assistance, Modi could score brownie points with Indian Muslims as well as raise his standing in the Arab and Islamic world.


Four Indians arrested in Syria were illegal immigrants: Syrian govt


By: PTI | New Delhi | Published:February 24, 2016 5:14 pm

Four Indians were arrested in Syria recently not because they had gone there to join and fight alongside the ISIS but for entering the country without valid visa, the government on Wednesday clarified.
Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Walid Al Maoulem, during his visit here last month, had said the four Indians had “crossed over from Jordan to Syria to join the ISIS” and that they were under custody in Damascus.
Replying to a question in Lok Sabha, Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh said the Indians had entered Syria illegally from Jordan on their way to Lebanon where they were heading for employment.

“Arun Kumar Saini, Sarvjeet Singh, Kuldeep Singh and Joga/Jagga Singh entered into Syria from Jordan on their way to Lebanon for employment without valid visa. They were caught by the Syrian authorities as illegal immigrants,” he said.
He said Syrian authorities, after making “necessary inquiries”, conveyed to New Delhi that they can be brought back to India.
The Minister said officials from Indian Embassy in Damascus have met the four persons and modalities are being worked out to bring them back.

Haryana, Arun Saini and Sarvjeet Singh from Jagdishpura village in Kaithal, called home on January 18, 2015, from an undisclosed location in Syria.
They were accompanied by Jogga Singh and Kuldeep Singh from the neighboring Bodda village in Pehowa, Kurukshetra. All four, in their early 20s, were trying to escape the abject poverty back home, reported DNA.

They were caught when they crossed the Jordanian border to enter Syria.

“I don’t know where Syria is, but I have heard about Islamic State (IS) and the war,” says Jimmy, the 15-year-old brother of Sarvjeet. “My brother did not go to join IS. He went to work there and earn money for family,” he said.

Last week, deputy prime minister of Syria, Walid al Moualem, who was in New Delhi on a state visit, disclosed that four Indian nationals trying to join IS are currently confined in a prison in Damascus.

Later it was found that these four Indians were economic migrants, and not IS supporters.

Officials from the ministry of external affairs, on condition of anonymity, confirmed the information. “We were informed by the Syrian government a few months ago. It came to our notice that they were non-Muslims and most probably migrant labourers who were entrapped by the agent,” the officer said.

The Indian embassy in Damascus is in touch with the authority in Syria to investigate further on the case. “We are trying to verify their identities, how they reached Syria and inspect their travel documents. It is likely that they were caught because they entered Syria illegally.”

The Syrian government has also asked its counterparts in India to take back the four men. A decision is likely to be taken on their deportation, once their identities are verified, in the coming days. “If they have valid passports and are not found guilty, except for illegal travel, we will soon start the process of bringing them to India.”

Raj Kaur, mother of Kuldeep Singh, said that the family has failed to get any further information on the whereabouts of her son. “We filed an FIR with the local police that our son is missing in Syria. A few days ago, the police came for inquiry, but we have heard no news of our son since then.”

The villages around Kaithal and Kurukshetra, like many others in Haryana and Punjab, are families wherein young men are working as migrant labourers in the Gulf and West Asia.

There are more than 6 million Indians working there as unskilled or semi-skilled laborers. In view of the deteriorating security situation, India has issued advisories to avoid travel to Syria, Iraq, and Libya.

But this didn’t deter the four families. After hearing from others about a local agent, Surjeet Singh, who was promised a job in Lebanon and safer transport, the families of the four reportedly paid Rs 4 lakh each.Though several calls were made to the agent Surjeet Singh, he could not be reached.

The four then left from Haryana on September 24, 2014, to Amman in Jordan. After spending nearly three months there, they moved to Syria, probably to reach Lebanon in January. It is not clear if they were assisted by a local recruit or they travelled on their own.

Both Arun and Sarvjeet called their families. “We got a call around 10 am and he informed us that the agent was going to take them to Lebanon. That was the last we heard,” said Sheela Rani, sister-in-law of Arun.

His elder brother is paralysed on one side and continues to work as a local water supply contractor. One of the three sisters is yet to be married, while the father works as a farm labourer.

She too denied the likeliness of Arun joining IS. “Our family is in a critical condition, financially. We have to look at our neighbours and relatives for financial help. Hamne socha Arun bahar chala jayega toh ghar ke haalat theek ho jayenge,” says Sheela Rani.

The ageing mother of Sarvjeet, Surendra Kaur, who works as a domestic help and earns Rs 2,500 monthly, waits for her eldest son to return and shoulder the mantle of the family.

“After his father’s death, he is the one who has to take care of us. We took loans to send him abroad so that he can earn money. I hope he returns soon.”

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