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3 Indians Held Hostage in Iraq Return to Heroes' Welcome in New Delhi - 2004-09-03

Three Indian truck drivers, held hostage for 42 days in Iraq, have returned home to a relieved nation. The men received a heroes' welcome as they emerged from Indira Gandhi International Airport.

A jubilant crowd of friends, family and supporters greeted the former hostages early Friday morning.

An emotional Sukhdev Singh, flanked by the two men who had been captured with him in Iraq, told the crowd he was overjoyed to be back home.

Mr. Singh also made a point of thanking the Indian government for helping secure his release.

The three men were among seven foreign workers abducted by an Islamic militant group in July while working as truck drivers in Iraq.

The kidnappers repeatedly threatened to kill the hostages unless a ransom was paid and a changing set of additional demands was met.

The fate of the three became a matter of intense national interest in India, and the hostages' families were interviewed repeatedly as they awaited word of the men's fate.

The workers were finally freed on Wednesday after their employer, a Kuwaiti transport company, agreed to stop working in Iraq.

The firm also claims it paid a $500,000 ransom.

India's minister of external affairs, E. Ahamed, was at the airport to greet the men Friday morning.

Surrounded by reporters, Mr. Ahamed insisted India would help protect its citizens, but would not negotiate with kidnappers.

"[The] Government has secured the release without compromising its stated policy on hostage issues: no negotiation, nothing like that," he announced.

The celebrations in India were in marked contrast to angry mob scenes in neighboring Nepal earlier this week, where people in the capital, Kathmandu, rioted and tried to burn the city's only mosque after Islamic militants in Iraq killed 12 Nepalese hostages.

A shoot-on-sight curfew imposed to prevent further rioting in Kathmandu went into its third day Friday, and prayers at the mosque were cancelled.