Fr Tom has been released and is on his way home to India
Fr Tom Uzhunnalil has finally been set free after more than 18 months of speculation and uncertainty following his abduction by militants in Yemen. Many reports claimed that IS abducted Fr. Tom but the rumors remain unconfirmed and it is still unclear which group was responsible. Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since March 2015, when Shia rebels attempted to oust Yemen’s Sunni-led government. Saudi Arabia has led a pro-government coalition. Islamic State and al-Qaeda have both set up strongholds in Yemen amid the power vacuum.
The news of Fr Tom’s release was officially announced by Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj on 12 Sep in a tweet that read: “I am happy to inform that Fr Tom Uzhunnalil has been rescued.” The Salesian Information Agency also reported that he had been released. Fr Tom will remain for a few days in a Salesian community in Rome before going home to India.
The state-run Oman News Agency claimed that Fr. Tom’s release was secured by Oman. A released statement said, “In compliance with the His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Oman in coordination with the Yemeni parties has managed to find a Vatican priest.” It added that Fr Tom “has been transferred to Muscat from where he will return to his home in Kerala.”
The statement from Oman News Agency said Fr. Tom had “expressed thanks to God Almighty” following his release. He also thanked Sultan Qaboos as well as “his brothers and sisters and all relatives and friends who called on God for safety and release.”
Fr Tom, a Salesian missionary, attracted considerable attention worldwide following his abduction on 4 March 2016, during an attack on a Missionaries of Charity home in Aden, Yemen, that left 16 people dead including four Sisters. His international profile grew when rumors spread that he was to be crucified on Good Friday, but these were later shown to be false. During the past year, numerous photos and videos have been released showing Fr. Tom, thin and with an overgrown beard, pleading for help to secure his release.
When Fr Tom went missing, numerous prayer vigils and novenas were organized by the Salesians in Bangalore to pray for his safety. Tireless efforts were made by the government and the Indian bishops to secure his release.
Pope Francis was among those who advocated on behalf of Fr. Tom. He called for the priest’s release on 10 April 2016, after his Sunday Regina Coeli address in St. Peter’s Square saying: “I renew my appeal for the freeing of all kidnapped persons in armed conflict zones. In particular, I wish to remember Salesian priest Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in Aden, Yemen last 4 March.”