EIGHTEEN MONTHS after he was abducted by suspected Islamic State militants, Tom Uzhunnalil, a Christian priest from Kerala, has been rescued from captivity in conflict-torn Yemen, the government said Tuesday.The 57-year-old priest was abducted in March 2016 during an attack on an old-age home run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in the southern Yemeni city of Aden.
“I am happy to inform that Father Tom Uzhunnalil has been rescued,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted on Tuesday, along with a picture of the priest.
At Ramapuram, in Kerala’s Kottayam district, V I Thomas, a cousin of the priest, said, “God has heard our prayers. We have been waiting for this news for the last 18 months.”
Yemen is in the midst of a violent conflict between Houthi rebels backing former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and forces supporting the present dispensation of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Uzhunnalil was freed on the intervention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oman, the country neighbouring Yemen and led by Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said.
Uzhunnalil, who was brought to Oman’s capital Muscat, is expected to reach Ramapuram soon. On Tuesday, the priest’s ancestral home remained locked, with his siblings settled in Karnataka, Gujarat and the US.
Omani state media reported that “Oman in coordination with Yemeni parties have managed to find a Vatican priest”.
“He has been transferred to Muscat from where he will return to his home in Kerala. Tom Uzhunnalil, a Vatican priest, expressed thanks to God Almighty and appreciation to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos,” the report said.
Last month, Swaraj had assured a delegation of priests from Bengaluru that Uzhunnalil would be released soon. India had repeatedly said that it was in regular contact with Yemeni and Saudi authorities regarding the priest’s release.
Uzhunnalil was ordained as a priest in 1990 and worked in various parts of the country before moving to Yemen in 2015. He had visited Kerala a few months before his abduction.
His cousin Thomas said the family had feared often that Uzhunnalil would be killed by his abductors. “On such occasions, we would get in touch with Abu Dhabi-based Bishop Paul Hinder, who is the Apostolic Vicar of UAE, Oman and Yemen. Last month, too, we called the vicariate to ensure that Father Tom is alive,’’ said Thomas.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) said the church was grateful to the government and others concerned for the priest’s relase.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan described Uzhunnalil’s release as “heartening”, and said that all help would be provided to enable him to reach his home in Kerala.