In­dian priest says Ye­meni cap­tors did not harm him dur­ing or­deal

The National - News - - NEWS -

A Ro­man Catholic priest from In­dia who was held for 18 months by mil­i­tants in Ye­men said yes­ter­day that he was never phys­i­cally harmed dur­ing his cap­tiv­ity, even though his cap­tors feigned hit­ting him in videos seek­ing ran­som.

Fa­ther Tom Uzhun­nalil was kid­napped in March last year from a home for the aged in the south­ern port city of Aden that was es­tab­lished by Mother Teresa’s Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity. Four nuns were killed in the at­tack.

Fr Uzhun­nalil’s voice broke as he made his first pub­lic state­ments about his or­deal.

“I thank God almighty for this day. He saved me healthy enough. Clear mind. Emo­tions un­der con­trol un­til now,” the 59-year-old priest said. “God has been ex­tremely kind to me. No gun was pointed at me.”

Fr Uzhun­nalil said he iden­ti­fied him­self as an In­dian when the home was at­tacked and was taken to an­other room “while they killed the oth­ers”.

In­dia and Oman an­nounced his re­lease on Tues­day. Im­ages of Fr Uzhun­nalil leav­ing an Omani air force plane in Mus­cat showed him gaunt and bearded.

The priest said he had been trans­ferred from Ye­men by car to Oman, and then brought by air to the Omani cap­i­tal be­fore con­tin­u­ing his jour­ney to Rome.

Fr Uzhun­nalil said he did not know his kid­nap­pers’ iden­ti­ties nor af­fil­i­a­tions and be­lieved their mo­tive was ran­som, al­though the head of the Sale­sian or­der to which he be­longs said they had no knowl­edge of any ran­som hav­ing been paid.

“No one ever told us that they asked for money. No one asked us for even a euro,” said Don A F Ar­time.

“We don’t know any­thing about this. This is the whole truth. And I be­lieve that Fa­ther Tom knows even less.”

The mech­a­nisms be­hind his re­lease were un­clear, but the Vatican thanked the sul­tan of Oman in a state­ment and Fr Uzhun­nalil thanked lead­ers in his na­tive In­dia.

The priest said that his cap­tors never harmed him, even if in some videos they made it ap­pear that way in an ef­fort to get a speedy re­sponse in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

They pro­vided tablets to treat his di­a­betes and took care of his ba­sic needs. He was trans­ferred sev­eral times dur­ing his cap­tiv­ity, but does not know where he was held. His cap­tors kept their faces cov­ered in his pres­ence, he said.

Fr Ar­time said the priest lost about 30 kilo­grams dur­ing the or­deal, and de­scribed his health as “very del­i­cate, very weak”, but that “he is calm of spirit”.

Fr Uzhun­nalil, who comes from Rama­pu­ram in the south­ern In­dian state of Ker­ala, had worked at the home in Aden for four years. The city has of­ten been tar­geted by ex­trem­ist mil­i­tants from Al Qaeda and ISIL since civil war broke out in Ye­men in 2015, but there was no claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack on the home.

Seven­teen peo­ple were killed when mil­i­tants stormed the home in Aden’s Sheikh Oth­man dis­trict in March last year.

Res­i­dents said that the dead in­cluded six Ethiopi­ans, a Ye­meni cook and Ye­meni guards.

Two of the nuns who were killed were from Rwanda and the other two were from Kenya and In­dia, the Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity said. One nun es­caped by hid­ing in a cold room for stor­ing medicines.

A doc­tor at the hos­pi­tal that re­ceived the bod­ies said most of the vic­tims were shot in the head and some had their hands tied be­hind their backs.

Fr Uzhun­nalil said he was taken away in the boot of a car. He was last seen in a video cir­cu­lated on­line in De­cem­ber last year, in which he ap­pealed to In­dian prime min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and Pope Fran­cis to se­cure his free­dom.

The priest had an au­di­ence with the pope last week af­ter fly­ing to Rome from Oman and has been in the Vatican City since then.

I thank God almighty for this day. He saved me healthy enough. Clear mind. Emo­tions un­der con­trol un­til now TOM UZHUN­NALIL Ro­man Catholic priest


Fa­ther Tom Uzhun­nalil pauses yes­ter­day in Rome as he tells of his 18 months as a cap­tive of mil­i­tants in Ye­men

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