Abducted in Yemen, Fr Tom is still alive

Yemen’s deputy prime minister made the announcement. His government will do everything possible to free the Salesian clergyman. India’s External Affairs Ministry offers its assistance to obtain the release.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi, Yemen’s deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister, during a visit to India announced that Father Tom Uzhunnalil, the Salesian kidnapped in Yemen in March 2016, is still alive.

In a meeting with his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, he assured the Indian government that his government would do everything to obtain his release.

Father Tom has been in the hands of his kidnappers for more than a year. Occasionally, reports about his health have been leaked to the press. The latest on 8 May shows the Salesian in a second video in which he calls for his release and warns that his health was "worsening quickly".

In a first video posted over the Christmas holidays on 26 December 2016, the clergyman appealed to Pope Francis for his release. He also said –  perhaps under duress – that he had been "forgotten" by civil and Church authorities and needed treatment.

Fr Tom, a native of Kerala (southern India), has been a prisoner of a jihadist group since 4 March 2016. His abductors, probably linked to the Islamic State, stormed a home for the sick and elderly run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, southern Yemen.

Four sisters of Mother Teresa and other 12 people inside the facility were killed in the attack. The only survivor in the religiously motivated attack was Sister Sally, the home’s superior, who was away at the time.

Last Easter a baseless rumour began circulating suggesting that the clergyman’s kidnappers were planning to torture, kill and crucify him on Good Friday, 25 March.

The Salesians and by Mgr Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of southern Arabia, repeatedly dismissed the story, but it did fuel fears about the Indian priest’s fate.

The statement by the Yemeni minister comes after India’s “External Affairs Minister stressed the government's concern for the safety and well-being of Father Tom,” the ministry said in a statement, and “reiterated the request for continued assistance from the Yemeni authorities in securing his safe and early release”.