The 46 Indian nurses, holed up in Tikrit Teaching Hospital for nearly a month, and from Monday on held captive by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in the hospital's basement, were at gunpoint herded into two buses and driven out of the hospital compound to an unknown location in the wee hours of Thursday.
A source in the UAE, with whom one of the nurses has been in constant contact over the past week, told dna that at least half a dozen nurses, who resisted the forcible eviction, were injured. Significantly, the nurses' mobile phones are not reachable anymore.
The nurses are no longer free agents, the source told dna.
"Bearded armed fighters of the ISIS, their eyes hidden behind dark glasses, forced them into two buses and drove them out of the compound," the source said, adding that the militants blew up sections of the hospital before they left, most likely to Mosul, a city north of Tikrit.
But some of the nurses were successful in getting the message across to their distraught families in Kerala who in turn informed the government of Kerala, prompting chief minister Oomen Chandy to air-dash to New Delhi.
The ministry of external affairs (MEA), meanwhile, stuck to its spiel that the Indian embassy was in constant contact with the nurses and were, in fact, giving them real time instructions on what to do and what not to do. MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the nurses were "on the road" and "safe".
"They are on the move right now. They agreed to shift for their own safety," Akbaruddin said, adding that their destination was "not known" at present. "It is not a situation of our choice. It is a difficult situation."
At a press conference called on the developments in Tikrit, Akbaruddin fumbled for answers. Asked if the nurses had stepped into the buses of there own free will, he said "in zones of conflict there is no such thing as free will."
If that's the case, how does he insist that the nurses are safe? To that Akbaruddin, who on Tuesday warned Indian media not to talk to the nurses or write "stories" on them, said, "We've partners across Iraq and we're working in coordination with them."
He refused to confirm if the nurses were shifted out by ISIS militants but in the same breath said the nurses were instructed by the Indian embassy in Baghdad to comply with the ISIS diktat.
Pressed, he said "some things are best left unsaid", a line he has been practicing with the media over the past week every time a story broke on the plight of the Indian nurses.
Till Wednesday, the MEA had hummed and hawed when asked about what the government was doing to get the nurses out of the sticky situation they were in, only saying that they were "safe" and "in constant touch with the Indian embassy."
With the nurses "on the road", it's more or less certain that they were being driven to Mosul, which was the first city to fall into ISIS hands after it went on its annex-Iraq drive, where 39 Indian construction workers are also in ISIS custody.
The day also saw Kerala CM Oommen Chandy holding meetings with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to discuss the situation that has risen with the ISIS move to shift the nurses out of Tikrit. Chandy said the Centre has assured him of all possible help for the evacuation of the nurses.