NEW DELHI -- India said on Tuesday that 39 Indians, who were kidnapped by Islamic State militants in Iraq in 2014, had been confirmed dead after their bodies were found and DNA samples matched.
The bodies were recovered from a mound in Badush, in the Iraqi city of Mosul, which was freed from the Islamic State last July. DNA tests had confirmed the bodies to be those of the construction workers who went missing from Mosul, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said.
"With full proof I can say these 39 are dead," Swaraj told parliament. The government had for years said it would only declare the men dead once it had full evidence.
Swaraj said authorities in Baghdad helped identify the mound in Badush, about 420 kms (260 miles) from the capital Baghdad, and with the help of deep penetration radar, the buried bodies were discovered and exhumed.
DNA testing provided matches for 38 of the missing men while one was a 70 percent match, Swaraj said, as his parents were both dead and the DNA sample of next of kin was provided.
"We recovered ID cards, long hair, kada and some non-Iraqi footwear," Swaraj said. A kada is a steel bracelet worn by Sikh men, who do not cut their hair.
Most of the workers were from the northern state of Punjab, where most of India's Sikhs live.
"Shattered at the heart-wrenching news ... that the 39 Indians missing in Iraq, most of whom were Punjabis, are dead," Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said on Twitter.
"My heart goes out to the families who had been living in hope since their reported abduction by ISIS in 2014."
The government had maintained for years that it believed the men were alive and it was trying to secure their release.
Opposition leaders and families of the men said the government had kept them in the dark.
"Why did the government give false hope to the nation for three and a half years that the people were still alive? That was disappointing behaviour," Shashi Tharoor, a leader of the opposition Congress party, said in a tweet.