An Indian nun was among 16 people killed Friday in the Yemeni port city of Aden by a group of armed men who stormed an old-age home run by Kolkata-based Missionaries of Charity.
Officials initially said that four Indian nuns had been killed in the attack and that they were trying to ascertain their identities. Late Friday night, they confirmed that of the four nuns killed, only one — Cecilia Minj — was Indian.
The attack prompted External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to issue an appeal on Twitter for “all Indians in such danger zones to please come back to India”.
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Earlier, Swaraj tweeted: “Yemen — Four Indian nurses have been killed in a terrorist attack today. I am sorry the nurses stayed back/returned ignoring our advisories.”
Missionaries of Charity, however, identified those killed as Sister M Anselm (57) from Jharkhand, Sister M Marguerite (44) from Rwanda, Sister M Judith (41) from Kenya and Sister M Reginette (32) from Rwanda.
In a statement, it added that Sister M Sally, the superior of the community, and Father Tommy ADB from Bengaluru, had gone missing after the incident.
Sources told The Indian Express that according to information received from the Indian Embassy’s camp office in neighbouring Djibouti, the attackers, numbering between two and four, asked the guard to open the gate on the pretext of “visiting their mothers”.
“On entering, they shot dead the gatekeeper and started shooting randomly at the inmates,” Indian officials informed the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
Officials told MEA that the attack on the old-age home in Sheikh Othman district took place at around 1230 hours. “The assailants escaped soon after the attack. The area has been cordoned off and police are investigating the incident,” officials said.
In New Delhi, MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “We are trying to ascertain the details.”
The statement by the Missionaries of Charity said that “the men were dressed in a bluish uniform and armed with guns”.
“They entered when the sisters were serving breakfast in the home. Realising the danger, four of the five sisters ran for safety towards the convent and were shot down in the open area,” it said.
The gunmen entered all rooms and destroyed the tabernacle, statues and the crucifix in the chapel, it said.
“They must have been demented. They cannot be normal people. There is no other explanation as to why armed people would enter the premises of the home and shoot down innocent, harmless nurses who had dedicated their lives to serving others. I was stunned when I heard about it. It was shocking,” said Missionaries of Charity spokesperson, Sunita Kumar, adding that the organisation would hold special prayers.
The Indian Embassy in Yemen’s capital Sana’a was closed last year after civil war broke out, with all its functions being carried out from a camp office in Djibouti, across the Red Sea. But even this office is now in the process of being shifted to New Delhi.
An AP report, which quoted witnesses and officials, said two gunmen surrounded the home while four more entered the building. They said the gunmen moved from room to room, handcuffing the victims before shooting them in the head.
According to that report, one nun who was rescued by locals said that she hid inside a fridge in a storeroom after hearing a Yemeni guard shouting “run, run”.
While some reports said the victims were handcuffed before they were shot in the head, officials could not verify that version.
There are at least 80 residents living at the home, which is run by Missionaries of Charity, an organisation established by Mother Teresa.
AP ADDS: Yemen’s civil war has split the country in two, with the northern region, where Shiite Houthi rebels are in control, hit by an extensive air campaign by a Saudi-led coalition. The southern region, which is controlled by the internationally-recognised government backed by Saudi Arabia, is suffering from a power and security vacuum.
Aden descended into lawlessness last summer after the Saudi-led coalition recaptured the city from rebels.
The Islamic State and Yemen’s al-Qaida affiliate have exploited the lawlessness and created safe havens in the south. Al-Qaida controls several southern cities while IS has claimed responsibility for a wave of deadly attacks in Aden, including a suicide bombing that killed the city’s governor and several assassination attempts on top officials.
(With inputs from ENS in Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram)