Abducted Indian priest finally released after 18 months in captivity in Yemen

(Reuters/Stringer)People stand outside an old people's home after it was attacked by gunmen in the Yemeni port of Aden March 4, 2016.

Indian priest Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped by suspected Islamic State militants in Yemen last year, has been freed after 18 months in captivity.

Uzhunnalil was abducted from a care home in the port city of Aden on March 6, 2016 by four gunmen posing as relatives of one of the residents. Four Indian nuns, two Yemeni staff members, eight elderly residents and a security guard were killed in the attack.

According to First Post, the Indian priest was rescued from an undisclosed location with the help of the Oman government.

"In response to the royal orders of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and as per a request from the Vatican... the concerned authorities in the Sultanate, in coordination with the Yemeni authorities, have managed to find a Vatican government employee. He was transferred this (Tuesday) morning to Muscat in preparation for his return home," the Oman government was quoted as saying.

On Wednesday, the Indian government clarified that there was no ransom paid to the abductors for the release of the priest.

Union minister of state for external affairs VK Singh said that Uzhunnalil's release demonstrates that his ministry "works quietly and without noise, but ultimately gets the work done."

Soon after his release, Uzhunnalil met with Pope Francis at his Santa Marta residence in Rome after Wednesday's weekly general audience.

The Indian priest bowed down to kiss the feet of the pontiff, who immediately raised him to his feet and embraced him. The Pope encouraged Uzhunnalil and vowed to continue praying for him as he had done during his captivity.

Prior to his rescue, various rumors have circulated that the Indian priest was crucified by the militants on Good Friday last year.

However, a video Uzhunnalil surfaced in December 2016, showing the priest pleading with the government of India and the Church to secure his release.

The Indian priest appeared in a second video in May 2017, in which he lamented that the government and the Church are not making serious efforts to help him.

"They are treating me well to the extent they are able. My health condition is deteriorating quickly and I require hospitalisation as early as possible," he said in the video.

In July, Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi reported that the priest was still alive and that the Yemeni government is "making all efforts to secure his release."

Last year, India's Union minister Sushma Swaraj said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself had spoken to various countries to secure the release of Uzhunnalil.

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