YEMEN – Kidnapped Indian priest Fr Tom is still alive
Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi, Yemen’s minister for foreign affairs, told Indian officials during a recent visit to New Delhi that Fr Tom is still alive. The official statement said Al-Mekhlafi, who is also the deputy prime minister, informed the government that Father Thomas Uzhunnalil is “alive and the Yemeni government has been making all efforts to secure his release. He assured all cooperation in this regard.”
In a meeting with Mr Swaraj, the Indian external affairs minister, Al-Mekhlafi gave his reassurances that efforts to trace the Indian priest continue. Swaraj stressed the Indian government’s concern for the safety of the priest and reiterated the request for “continued assistance from the Yemeni authorities in securing his safe and early release.”
56-year-old Father Tom was kidnapped on 4 March 2016 by suspected Islamic terrorists who stormed a home for elderly people managed by Missionaries of Charity in the Yemeni port city of Aden. The terrorists shot dead 16 people, including four nuns during the attack before kidnapping the priest, who served as the chaplain of the house. Father Tom hails from Kerala in southern India and belongs to Salesians of Don Bosco’s Bangalore province. He had been working as a missionary under Bishop Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia.
In February this year, at least 60 children, dressed as the infant Jesus, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention for the early release of Father Tom. Church officials said they had not received any demands for ransom in the last year and were unaware of the motive or identity of the kidnappers, making their role in the rescue effort impossible.
In the past year rumours circulated of his torture by Islamic militants and there was even a false report that Father Tom had been crucified on Good Friday. Two videos appeared on social media in which the priest sought the help of the church and Indian officials.
The first video requested the church maintain its efforts to secure his release without specifying any specific action. In the second, the priest said his captors had contacted the Indian authorities “several times” and the replies, which he said he had seen, were “very, very poor.”
“They also contacted the bishop of Abu Dhabi,” he said. “There, too, the response was not encouraging. Neither the bishop nor the Indian government authorities asked them what they really want to get me released. It is a poor response, and I am sad about that.” Asking his family and friends to pressure the authorities, he said, “Please, please, do what you can to get me released. May God bless you for that.”