Yemeni foreign minister confirms abducted Indian priest is still alive

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

Yemen's foreign minister has told Indian officials that the priest who was kidnapped in the Yemeni port city of Aden is still alive, and there are continuing efforts to find him.

During his visit to New Delhi, Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi, Yemen's Minister of Foreign Affairs, reassured his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, that the Salesian priest, Father Tom Uzhunnalil, is still alive and that the Yemen government has been making all efforts to secure his release.

UCA News reported that Swaraj had stressed the Indian governments concern for the safety of Uzhunnalil and reiterated the request for "continued assistance from the Yemeni authorities in securing his safe and early release."

Al-Mekhlafi, who also serves as the deputy prime minister, assured the Yemeni government's cooperation regarding the matter.

Uzhunnalil was kidnapped by suspected Islamic militants at a home for elderly people in the port city of Aden in March 2016. At least 16 people, including four nuns, were killed during the assault at the home managed by the Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.

In a video posted on a Yemeni news portal in May this year, the priest stated that his abductors are treating him well "to the extent they are able." However, he said that his health condition is "deteriorating quickly" and that he requires hospitalization "as early as possible."

The priest noted that his abductors had already contacted the Indian government and the Catholic bishop in Abu Dhabi with their demands, but he said that the response was "not encouraging."

"My dear family people, do what you can to help me be released. Please, please do what you can to help to get me released. May God bless you for that," he said, according to The News Minute.

Uzhunnalil, who belongs to Salesians of Don Bosco's Bangalore province, had been working as a missionary under Bishop Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia.

Meanwhile, church officials have claimed that they have not received any demands for ransom in the last year and that they are unaware of the motive and identity of the kidnappers.

Yemen has been virtually under siege since 2015, when a coalition of Arab nations, led by Saudi Arabia, attacked Shia Houthi rebels who were said to be responsible for toppling the government of President Ad Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

Swaraj thanked the Yemeni government for its cooperation in evacuating Indian nationals and other foreigners from the country in 2015. The operation, which was India's second-largest evacuation mission in recent times, had led to the rescue of more than 6,000 Indians from Yemen.