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Salesian priest kidnapped in Yemen is alive, says Indian bishops conference

A photograph and a file with personal details of kidnapped Indian priest Fr Tom Uzhunnalil (AP)

Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, the Indian Catholic priest kidnapped in Yemen, is believed to be alive, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) has said.

“Ms Sushma Swaraj [the Minister for External Affairs] has categorically assured the delegation that Fr Tom Uzhunnalil is safe and that the government is adopting all possible means for the quick and safe release of Fr Tom,” the statement said.

“The Honourable Minister further said that the details of the negotiations and the technicalities involved with the negotiations cannot be divulged now, as it would endanger the process of release itself.

The statement added: “Ms Sushma Swaraj also shared with the delegation the strenuous effort taken by the External Affairs Ministry, and personally by her to procure a safe passage for Sr Rema, the only surviving nun, from the terrorist attack in Yemen. The Honourable Minister also said that the wild rumours being spread about any harm done to Fr Tom, are totally baseless.”

An unnamed official told the Indo-Asian News Service said that the Vatican and FBI were working to secure Fr Uzhunnallil’s release: “The Vatican, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Catholic Church’s working groups in Jordan and Abu Dhabi, besides Indian Embassy officials in Djibouti along with Indians based in Yemen are all working hard to see that the priest is rescued.”

The Salesian priest was kidnapped on March 4 from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. Four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack by militants reportedly connected to ISIS.

Bishop Paul Hinder, head of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, said widespread reports that the priest was crucified on Good Friday appeared to be untrue. “I have no confirmation that anything happened on Good Friday,” he said.

Speaking from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Bishop Hinder said it appeared that a rumour began in India that militants connected to ISIS planned to crucify Fr Uzhunnalil on Good Friday. The rumour spread around the world on social media.

At his Easter Vigil Mass, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna mentioned Fr Uzhunnalil and said that ISIS had followed through on the threat.

But Bishop Hinder said that Cardinal Schonborn had been misinformed. Leaders of the Salesian order in India said there was no evidence to support the reports and asked people to refrain from “spreading false rumours”.