Sanaa (AsiaNews) – "I met the nun who escaped the massacre. She is doing reasonably well. As one might expect, she is still in a state of shock. She is certainly exhausted by her ordeal, but physically she is OK,” said Mgr Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen).
The prelate recently met Sister Sally. The Indian nun is a member of the Missionaries of Charity, and the only survivor of the massacre perpetrated on 4 March at a retirement home in Aden, southern Yemen, run by the Sisters of Mother Teresa. The facility housed senior citizens and disabled people.
When a group of gunmen stormed the facility, they killed four nuns and seized a priest; 12 other people who worked at the facility, mostly Muslim, were also killed. Only the superior managed to save herself from the attackers’ brutality. Although no one has yet claimed responsibility, fingers point to people who might be linked to the Islamic State group.
The four nuns were Sister Anselma from India, Sister Marguerite and Sister Reginette from Rwanda, and Sister Judit from Kenya. Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, 56, the abducted priest, is also from India.
The nun who escaped the extremist fury "will go to a safe place abroad,” Mgr Hinder explained, where “She will be reached by the order’s superior.”
Although ““She is now safe, it is important to protect her not only from enemies and the memory of this terrible experience, but also from the media, the curious, those who want to get her to make a comment, or tell her story. Now she needs rest, and a bit of peace and quiet.”
As for Fr Tom, very little is known. Some channels have been approached to secure his release, but there is nothing certain about his fate. There are all sorts of rumours, including a report that he was killed, but this just adds more confusion.
For Mgr Hinder, “It would appear that he is still alive,” but “we do not have any additional information" about his fate. What matters for now is to do nothing that might jeopardise the work undertaken to secure his release.
For this reason, “it is better to be tight-lipped, and avoid fuelling to rumour mill” since there is nothing concrete. Every possible channel has been activated, the prelate said, but “we must be cautious and prudent."
Since January 2015, Yemen has been the scene of a bloody civil war pitting the country’s Sunni leadership, backed by Saudi Arabia, against Shia Houthi rebels, close to Iran.
In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against the rebels in an attempt to free the capital. For Saudi Arabia, the Houthis, who are allied to forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, are militarily supported by Iran, a charge the latter angrily denies.
Groups linked to al Qaeda and Jihadi militias linked to the Islamic State group are active in the country, which adds to the spiral of violence and terror.
Today, Houthi rebels and the Saudis exchanged prisoners after a rebel delegation went to Saudi Arabia to negotiate the swap. This is the first time since fighting began. The aim is also to get a truce along the border to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, including medicine, to the war zone.
"For months, I have been unable to get into the country,” Mgr Hinder said. “From the information I was able to gather, the humanitarian situation remains uncertain with millions of people surviving in difficult conditions. Confusion reigns, and extremist groups can easily operate in such a chaotic situation. What is more, groups are changing camps every day and it is hard to figure out whom one can trust."
"I know that many in Yemen are disheartened by the situation, even more so after what happened to the sisters. People were glad of their presence,” the apostolic vicar added.
Since the attack, “Both the authorities and ordinary folks have reached out to us to share our suffering. Except for a few small radical groups, no one dislikes us. However, the latter have guns and are ready to use force.”