An Indian missionary, held captive for 18 months after being captured by Islamic radicals, is now free and in Rome, the Vatican has confirmed.
Terrorists kidnapped Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil in an attack on a Missionaries of Charity convent in Aden, Yemen. He was taken alive, but the ambush left at least 16 people dead, including four sisters — members of Mother Teresa's religious order. Rumors persisted that Fr. Tom has been crucified and killed by ISIS militants, but the captured priest appeared in a propaganda video some weeks later.
Since then, the Vatican, in concert with India's government and, particularly, India's bishops, has been advocating for Fr. Tom's release and return to his homeland of India. Tuesday evening it appeared their efforts had finally borne fruit when Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj Tweeted, “I am happy to inform that Fr Tom Uzhunnalil has been rescued.”
The Vatican confirmed Fr. Tom's release in a statement Wednesday morning, noting that rescuing Fr. Tom was a multi-national effort that even involved the Sultan of Oman and Yemeni authorities.
“This morning, the Rev. Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, S.D.B., was freed after being kidnapped on March 4, 2016 in Yemen.
The Holy See fervently thanks all those who worked for his release, and especially His Majesty the Sultan of Oman and the competent authorities of the Sultanate.
Fr. Uzhunnalil will remain for a few days in a Salesian community in Rome before going home to India.”
According to an Omani news agency, Fr. Tom was released into Omani custody and delivered to the Omani capital of Muscat. Fr. Tom is reported to have “expressed thanks to God Almighty," and to his rescusers as he stepped foot into freedom, as well as all of “his brothers and sisters and all relatives and friends who called on God for safety and release.”
Fr. Tom, a member of the Salesian Catholic order of brothers, will remain in Rome for several days, recovering from captivity and reacquainting himself with freedom. He'll then travel home to India, the Salesian Information Agency reports, where he will visit his family in Kerala before returning to his monastery.