Tuesday February 25, 2020
Home India T. Gopikrishn...

T. Gopikrishna freed from Islamic State captivity says: I am Lucky to be alive

Indian academic T. Gopikrishna says the bad dreams about his 414-day ordeal as a hostage still haunt him after his rescue from Islamic State (IS) captivity in Libya

0
//
Members of forces loyal to Libya’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) guard a lookout point in the coastal city of Sirte during a military operation to clear the area of Islamic State militants, Sept. 19, 2016. BenarNews

October 4, 2016: Indian academic T. Gopikrishna says the bad dreams about his 414-day ordeal as a hostage still haunt him after his rescue from Islamic State (IS) captivity in Libya earlier this month.

NewsGram brings to you latest new stories in India.

“It was a very difficult period. I never thought I would be able to see my family again. And though I am fully aware I am now safe at home, I still have trouble sleeping soundly. The nightmares of my time in captivity jolt me awake almost every night,” Gopikrishna told BenarNews in a phone interview from his home city of Hyderabad in southern India, where he returned on Sept. 24.

A former computer science and engineering professor at Sirte University in Libya, he and his Indian colleague C. Balaramkishan, an English professor at the campus, were kidnapped by suspected IS militants on July 29, 2015, while traveling to Tripoli airport to catch a flight home from their annual vacation.

The Libyan army rescued the pair in a military operation on Sept. 14, the details of which were not made public.

The two men were among four Indians abducted together by IS militants. The two other hostages, Laxmikant Ramakrishna and Vijay Kumar, fellow colleagues at the university in Sirte, were released after two days in captivity.

Go to NewsGram and check out news related to political current issues.

Recalling the day of their abduction, Gopikrishna said he and Balaramkishan were chatting about their respective families and their holiday plans, when masked men with guns stopped their cab about 50 km (31 miles) from Sirte.

“The men spoke to our driver for a few minutes, after which the driver left the vehicle. And before we could even understand what was happening, our faces were covered with sacks. Both of us were pleading to be let off. But we were told to stay quiet,” he said.

Gopikrishna. BenarNews
T. Gopikrishna. BenarNews

14 months in a ‘pigeonhole’

[bctt tweet=”The professors were shoved in the back of a car and driven a short distance away – ” username=””]“not more than a 20-minute drive or may be a bit longer,” said Gopikrishna, adding they were then offloaded and pushed into a small, dingy room, where the sacks over the heads were removed.

“There was no light in the room, but for the bit coming through from a tiny opening high up on one of the walls. There was almost zero ventilation. There were two mattresses on the floor. I thought I’d suffocate before they could kill me,” he said.

Little did the professors know that the “pigeonhole” would become their home for the next 14 months.

“For days on end we wouldn’t see our abductors. Twice a day someone would slip in our food – most of time it was bread and vegetables. We were never physically tortured, but not knowing who had kidnapped us or why, or what was going to be our fate was enough of a mental torture,” Gopikrishna said.

Look for latest news from India in NewsGram.

“We had nothing to do aside from eating and sleeping. But Balaramkishan and I would chat about our families and how we might never see them again. We would cry together and sometimes laugh at jokes we told each other to keep our sanity,” he said.

‘We thought this was it’

During their captivity, the two hostages often heard gunshots, Gopikrishna recalled.

“At times we hoped that the army was around to rescue us, and at other times that we’d be killed so that at least the endless wait would be over,” he added.

Then one day, after another round of gunshots, the professors heard banging on the door to their room.

“We thought this was it. They’re going to kill us. But when the door opened it was the army. They said they were there to rescue us. We didn’t know how to react. We could not believe it,” Gopikrishna said.

Back home with his family in Hyderabad, Gopikrishna said he regretted moving to Libya in 2007 for the extra money he was offered.

“I am just very lucky to be alive and back home. I can’t thank the Libyan army and the Indian government enough for giving me a second go at life,” he said.

His wife, Kalyani, told BenarNews that she wouldn’t let him leave again even if he wanted to.

“I have waited for so long [for his return]. [I am] very happy he is back, and can’t express my joy in words. I won’t let him go again,” she said.

All efforts to contact Balaramkishan, also from Hyderabad, failed. His wife, Sridevi, told BenarNews that he was not interested in talking to the press.

“Our entire family is overjoyed he is back safe. For 14 months we were living in tension, surviving solely on the hope that he will one day return home,” she said.

More captives

According to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, while the government had facilitated the return of about 700 Indians back home from Libya, about 800 Indians are employed in different parts of Libya, which is one of the strongholds of IS.

Ministry spokesman Y.S. Kataria did not rule out the possibility of more Indians being held captive by suspected IS members in Libya.

“We know 39 [Indian] people are in [IS] captivity in Iraq. The number of captives in Libya is still being assessed through our consulate there,” he told BenarNews.

“All diplomatic channels are being adopted for their safe release. The embassy officials are in constant touch with the respective authorities, and where there is no government, with whoever is in control of the area,” he said. (BenarNews)

Next Story

Here’s Everything you Need to Know About the Increasing Islamic State Terror Activity in Syria

Surge of IS Violence and Terrorism Seen in Syria

0
Smoke Syria
Smoke rises while people gather at a damaged site after two bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State hit the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli near the Turkish border, Syria. VOA

By Sirwan Kajjo

Islamic State militants have increased their terror activity in recent weeks in Syria, carrying out deadly attacks against Syrian regime troops and U.S.-backed forces.

Since early December, the terror group has conducted at least three major attacks on Syrian government forces and their allied militias in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, local sources said.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has reporters across the country, recent attacks claimed by IS against Syrian military forces have killed at least 30 soldiers and wounded more than 50 others.

Last week, at least three fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in what local military officials described as a suicide attack carried out by IS militants in the province of Raqqa, IS’s former de facto capital before it was freed in 2017 by the SDF and its U.S.-led allies.

Islamic State Syria
Islamic State militants clean their weapons in Deir el-Zour city, Syria. VOA

‘Threat to our forces’ 

IS “terrorists still pose a threat to our forces, especially in the eastern part of Syria,” an SDF commander told VOA.

“They have been able to regroup and reorganize in some remote parts of Deir el-Zour, where there is a smaller presence of our forces or any other forces,” said the commander, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to journalists.

He added that despite the declaration of the physical defeat of the terror group in March 2019, IS “still has hundreds of sleeper cells that have the capability to wage deadly attacks on civilians and combatants alike.”

In the town of Tabqa, in western Raqqa, local news reports this week said a suspected IS sleeper cell assaulted a family, killing three of its members, including a child. The reports did not say why the family was attacked, but IS has in the past targeted people whom it suspected of having ties to or working for the government or U.S.-backed local forces.

While most of the recent activity has been in areas IS once controlled as part of its so-called caliphate, the militant group has been particularly active in Syria’s vast desert region.

The Syrian Observatory reported at least 10 IS-claimed attacks in December that originated from the mostly desert eastern part of Homs province in central Syria.

Baghdadi’s death

Islamic State Syria
The Islamic State group’s leader extolled militants in Sri Lanka for “striking the homes of the crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghouz,” a reference to IS’ last bastion in eastern Syria, which was captured by U.S.-backed fighters. VOA

Despite the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in October in a U.S. operation in northwestern Syria, IS still represents a major threat in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, experts say.

“As ISIS returns to its original decentralized structure, members of the group are trying to show ISIS still poses a threat, even after the defeat of its caliphate and the recent death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” said Kaleigh Thomas, a Middle East researcher at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, using another acronym for IS.

Sadradeen Kinno, a Syrian researcher who closely follows Islamist militancy, echoed Thomas’ views.

“IS is now living a period of stability, so to speak. After the death of Baghdadi, their objective is clearer now. They try to stay focused on carrying out assassinations, ambushes and suicide attacks, and they have been successful at that,” he told VOA.

Kinno said IS “really believes in a recurrent cycle of violence, so for them the territorial defeat they experienced this year is just a phase of their ongoing jihad.”

US withdrawal 

U.S. vehicles Syria
A convoy of U.S. vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump in October announced a withdrawal of troops from Syria, which was followed by a Turkish military offensive against U.S.-backed SDF fighters in northeast Syria.

Some experts say the U.S. troop pullout allowed IS to regroup, and thus its terror attacks have increased.

“The U.S. decision sent a signal to [IS] that the U.S. is not interested in a long-term presence in Syria,” said Azad Othman, a Syrian affairs analyst based in Irbil, Iraq.

IS “now feels that its low-level insurgency in Syria could be even more effective as long as the Americans don’t have a significant military presence in the country,” he told VOA.

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency said in a report in November that “ISIS has exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria to reconstitute its capabilities and resources both within Syria in the short term and globally in the longer term.”

Also Read- Friendly Regulation Policies Can Boost Up Drone Manufacturing in India, Says DFI

“The withdrawal and redeployment of U.S. troops has also affected the fight against ISIS, which remains a threat in the region and globally,” Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, said in the report.

But the U.S. has decided to keep about 500 troops to secure oil fields in Syria to prevent IS militants and the Syrian regime forces from accessing them. (VOA)