New Delhi (PTI): Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted by a terror group in Yemen, is “safe” and efforts are underway for his early release, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told a delegation of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the organisation’s spokesman said today.
Father Gyanprakash Topno, spokesman of CBCI, told PTI that a five-member delegation had yesterday met Swaraj who strongly refuted reports that the priest was not alive.
“Father Tom is safe and efforts are on for his release as early as possible,” Topno said quoting the minister who also told the delegation that “government will facilitate the priest’s safe return to India”.
He said the minister told the delegation that more details cannot be divulged at this stage. Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who hails from Kerala, was abducted last month by a terror group in Yemen, a conflict zone. He had gone missing in Yemen after the Islamic State militant group attacked a care home run by Mother Teresas Missionaries of Charity.
Gunmen had stormed the refuge for the elderly earlier this month and killed a Yemeni guard before tying up and shooting 15 other employees.
Four foreign nuns, including an Indian, working as nurses were among those killed. Father Tom was captured from the southern Yemeni city of Aden by gunmen who killed at least 15 people at an old people’s home in an attack that was condemned by Pope Francis.
During their meeting, the CBCI delegation expressed their deep concern and distress over the fate of Father Tom, whose whereabouts are still not known, even after 29 days of his abduction on March 4.
“Ms. Sushma Swaraj has categorically assured us that Father Tom Uzhunnalil is safe and that the Government is adopting all possible means for his quick and safe release,” CBCI deputy secretary generalo Joseph Chinnayyan said in a statement.
The minister stressed that details of the negotiations and the technicalities involved with it cannot be revealed now, as it would endanger the process of release itself, he said.
Swaraj also shared with the delegation the strenuous effort made by the External Affairs Ministry, and personally by her, to procure a safe passage for Rema, the only surviving nun from the terrorist attack in Yemen.
“The Honorable Minister also said that the wild rumors being spread about any harm done to Father Tom, are totally baseless,” he said.
“We expressed sincere gratitude of the whole Church in India for the various steps taken by the Government of India and, in particular, the Hon’ble Minister for External Affairs, to trace and rescue Father Tom from the abductors,” he said.
The delegation included Chinnayyan, Topno and CARITAS India Executive Director Father Frederick D’Souza.