Yemen’s foreign minister says kidnapped Salesian is still alive

NEW DELHI — Yemen’s foreign minister told Indian officials that Salesian Fr. Thomas Uzhunnalil, kidnapped in Yemen last year, is still alive, and efforts to trace him continue.

Ucanews.com reported that, during a visit to New Delhi, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi gave his reassurances in a meeting with the Indian external affairs July 10, said an Indian government statement. It said Fr. Uzhunnalil is “alive, and the Yemeni government has been making all efforts to secure his release.” It said al-Mekhlafi “assured all cooperation in this regard.”

Nuns pray in Bangalore, India, for the safety of Indian Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in 2016 in Yemen by a terror group. Yemen’s foreign minister told Indian officials that Father Uzhunnalil is still alive, and efforts to trace him continue. (CNS photo | Jagadeesh Nv, EPA)

The priest was kidnapped March 4, 2016, after suspected Islamic terrorists stormed a home for elderly people managed by the Missionaries of Charity nuns in the port city of Aden. The assailants shot dead 16 people, including four nuns, before kidnapping the priest, who served as chaplain of the house.

Fr. Uzhunnalil belongs to Salesians of Don Bosco’s Bangalore province. He had been working as a missionary under Bishop Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia.

Church officials said they had not received any demands for ransom in the last year and were unaware about the motive or identity of the kidnappers, making their role in the rescue effort impossible.

Amid rumors of torture by Islamic militants, two videos have appeared on social media in which the priest sought the help of the church and Indian officials, ucanews.com reported.

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.”