Priest seized by extremists in Yemen 'is safe' says Indian government

(Photo: Fr. ANS Agenzia Info Salesiana)Father Tom Uzhunnalil.

An Indian Salesian Catholic priest kidnapped by extremists in March Yemen is alive and well say government sources in Delhi after the anguish and uncertainty around his capture, but his situation is still uncertain.

Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was snatched by extremists in early March in Yemen, is alive and "safe" and right now "last efforts" are being made to "ensure his release," reported Asianews.

The news agency reported May 18 that the priest is not in the hands of the group calling itself Islamic State or Daesh as originally thought but rather being held by other "anti-government forces" in Yemen territory.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has said that Father Tom is "safe", Catholic News Agency reported.

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They are possibly Shiite Houthi rebels, who have been fighting the Yemen government army for more than a year, though there has been no confirmation of the group's involvement in the incident said the news agency.

The report said that mediation in place to secure the priest's release has reached "its final phase.

However Monsignor Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen), told Asianews that "there are no new elements" and the priest's fate is still uncertain.

He therefore urged "prudence" so as not to prejudice the outcome of ongoing negotiations for Father Tom's release.

A Jihadi group, then linked to IS, seized Uzhunnalil on March 4 after storming a home for the sick and elderly run by the Missionaries of Charity in the Yemini port city of Aden.

Four Sisters of Mercy from the same order as Mother Teresa and 12 lay people present in the facility were killed in the attack.

During Holy Week, unsubstantiated stories began circulating in India claiming that the kidnappers planned to torture, kill and crucify the priest on Good Friday.

On March 28, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India wrote to foreign minister Swaraj, urging the Indian government to take greater efforts to locate the priest and for further information to clarify his whereabouts in order to quell the rumors of his crucifixion.

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