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Kerala priest freed one year after his kidnap in Yemen

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He was freed after a year in captivity in Yemen

Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a priest from Kottayam in Kerala who was kidnapped by Yemeni militants from a charity home in Aden, has been released, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj announced on Tuesday.

Fr. Tom spent more than a year in captivity.

“I am happy to inform that Father Tom Uzhunnalil has been rescued,” Ms. Swaraj posted on her Twitter account.

Late on Tuesday night, Ms. Swaraj confirmed that Fr. Uzhannulil had "reached the Vatican."

Since his abduction Ms. Swaraj has made several statements on the government’s efforts to secure his release, as they have been able to do in other such cases, including the release of an aid worker from Afghanistan. However, the MEA declined to add any details of the priest’s release or condition at present.

Oman to the rescue

Instead, the official statement came from the Omani government which said that the priest was recovering in Muscat after being rescued, as per the request of the Vatican. A later version of the statement online omitted the words “as per the request of the Vatican”. It referred to Fr. Uzhunnalil as a “Vatican priest” and not a “Vatican employee”.

Oman’s Ministry of Information also released photographs of the priest, bearded, and looking frail, standing by an airplane.

“In response to the Royal Orders of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and as per a request from the Vatican to assist in the rescuing of a Vatican employee, the concerned authorities in the Sultanate, in coordination with the Yemeni authorities, have managed to find him. He was transferred Tuesday morning to Muscat in preparation for his return home in Kerala,” the Omani statement said.

Modi, Sushma thanked

Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ms. Swaraj for “persistently and perseveringly” trying to obtain his release.

“In different meetings with the Foreign Minister, she assured us that Father Tom was safe and that the Government would do everything to get him released. The Prime Minister too had assured us that all would be done to get him released,” the Catholic body said in a statement.

Priest Tom Uzhunnalil was abducted in March 2016 when four gunmen posing as relatives of one of the residents of a Missionaries of Charity home in Aden attacked the home, killing four Indian nuns, two Yemeni female staff members, eight elderly residents and a guard. ‘Father Tom’, as he was called, was with the Salesian Congregation (The Society of Don Bosco), and had reportedly volunteered to stay and serve at the home after thousands of Indians were evacuated in the outbreak of violence in Yemen.

Since then, his kidnappers, who have not been identified, released two videos of him, that showed him pleading for his life, leading to speculation they were mercenaries looking for a ransom.

Concerns about Mr. Uzhunnalil grew in March this year when reports of his being taken into captivity by ISIS emerged, and an online report claimed he would be “crucified around Good Friday.

However, in April, his kidnappers released another video showing him alive, where he made another plea, including to Pope Francis at the Vatican. "My health condition is deteriorating quickly and I require hospitalisation as early as possible," he added in the recording.

In July, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also met with Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi, deputy prime minister of Yemen in Delhi, where he confirmed that “Father Tom was alive and the Yemen Government has been making all efforts to secure his release” according to an MEA release.

The Omani government said Mr. Uzhannalil release had been secured with “Omani help” and that the “Vatican priest expressed thanks to God Almighty and appreciation to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. He also thanked his brothers and sisters and all relatives and friends who called on God for safety and release.”

Also read: Statement from Government of Oman

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 4:29:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/vatican-secures-release-of-kidnapped-kerala-priest-tom-uzhunnalil/article19670934.ece

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