Sunday, 6 March 2016

Christian Indians killed and kidnapped in Yemen

For the latest updates, visit #2016YemenAttack

In God they trust: Family prays for the safe return of Fr Tom

Pala: The family members of Fr Tom Uzhunnalil have been praying for his safety ever since the news of his abduction in strife-torn Yemen's Aden city reached them in Pala.

The priest is the son of late Varghese and Tresiyakutty, of Ramapuram near here. The clergyman has been living in Yemen for the past four years. He last visited Kerala in 2014 September to attend his mother's funeral. He was to visit again earlier this year in January but postponed it as he had some works related to the construction of a church in Yemen.

The gunmen stormed into the compound of the elderly care facility Friday around 8.30 am after mass. They first locked up Uzhunnalil inside the chapel. Then they barged into the elderly care home run by Missionaries of Charity on the same campus and fired indiscriminately, killing 16 people including four nuns. The gunmen then returned to the chapel, handcuffed Uzhunnalil and drove him away in their vehicle to some unknown location, Kunjagusty said based on eyewitness accounts shared with him by Fr M.J. George, a Keralite living in Yemen's Hodeidah city.

The gunmen also completely destroyed the chapel.

Family vocation
This is not the first time the Uzhunnalil family is facing such a crisis. Fr Tom's uncle, the late Fr Mathew Uzhunnalil, too had carried out missionary work in Yemen and faced many threats; the hostile situation in his area of work eased for a while only after the Vatican intervened. Fr Mathew passed away last year.
Fr Tom has been carrying out his charity mission in Yemen for the past four years. But the recent surge of extremism had made it difficult for him to continue with his work, and he had to be on the guard while even going to attend mass.
Last September, gunmen had set on fire a church where he was deputed. Since then, the 56-year-old was staying at the elderly care home, run by Missionaries of Charity. There were constant threats to Fr Tom's life but Friday's was the first time he was targeted.

Did Fr Tom ever consider returning?

"No," says Kunjaugusty. "The priest had gone there for charity work; it was his vocation. He is not someone to bow down to terror tactics," Kunjaugusty says.

Efforts for Fr Tom's release

It was the Indian embassy that informed the Uzhunnalil family of the abduction. The relatives are in constant touch with the embassy officials. However, they too acknowledge that the lack of a proper government in Yemen is making it difficult for the Indian government to locate the priest.
Fr Tom last contacted his family via social networking sites on Thursday. No one lives at his ancestral home in Ramapuram near Pala in Kottayam. Most of his siblings reside abroad.

There were around 80 residents at the home at the time of the attack. Missionaries of Charity nuns also came under attack in Yemen in 1998, when gunmen killed three nuns in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida.

Aden descended into lawlessness after a Saudi-led coalition recaptured the city from Shiite Houthi rebels last summer. The Islamic State group and Yemen's al-Qaida affiliate have exploited the lawlessness and created safe havens in the south. Al-Qaida controls several southern cities while IS has claimed responsibility for a wave of deadly attacks in Aden, including a suicide bombing that killed the city's governor and several assassination attempts on top officials.

Aden Attack: Indian Priest, Nun Still Missing, Sushma Swaraj Assures All Help

Updated: March 06, 2016 07:05 IST

Thiruvananthapuram:  There is no trace of the Catholic priest from Kerala, taken away by unidentified gunmen following Friday's attack on a care home for the elderly in Yemen's Aden, that left four nuns dead and another missing but External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has assured all help, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said.

An Indian nun was among the four nuns killed in the attack on the home run by the Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.

Speaking to IANS, Mr Chandy said that he just now spoke to Sushma Swaraj and it was she who told that a nun, who belongs to Chhattisgarh, has also gone missing from the care home in Aden.

"I spoke to her about the reports of a missing Kerala priest and sought help to locate him. She said the Indian embassy has now been closed down and also expressed doubts of the efficacy of the government there, but she has assured that the centre will do its best," he said.

Earlier, an aide of Mr Chandy, who is keeping in touch with Keralites in Yemen, told IANS that the mother superior of the home, Sister Sally, had a narrow escape when the gunmen opened fire at the care home.

"The priest Tom Kuzhuvennal, who hails from Kottayam district, has been taken away by these unidentified gunmen who opened fire, while Sally was moved to a safe place in the convent by the local people there after hearing the gun shots," said the official.

"We are in close touch with our people in Yemen who are closely following the developments there," added the official.

In the gunfire, four nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, including one from India, were killed. The Indian nun has been identified as Sister M Anseleme, 57, from Jharkhand. Of the other three nuns, two were from Rwanda and another from Kenya.

The home, set up by Mother Teresa in 1992, houses 61 elderly destitutes and the Kerala priest had come to the home from an insecure place in Yemen.

News reports indicate that these unidentified gunmen belonged to the Yemen-based affiliate of the ISIS.

Will Spare No Efforts To Rescue Priest Missing In Yemen: Sushma Swaraj

Updated: March 06, 2016 18:06 IST

New Delhi: India will spare no efforts to rescue father Tom Uzhunnalil, who has gone missing in Yemen after the ISIS terrorist group attacked a care home run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. "Yemen is a conflict zone. We do not have Embassy there. But we will spare no efforts to rescue Father Tom Uzhunnalil," External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted. The minister noted that though there was Indian Embassy in Yemen, there was a camp office in Djibouti. She also corrected the number of Indians killed in the attack from four to one. Gunmen stormed the refuge for the elderly on Friday, killing a Yemeni guard before tying up and shooting 15 other employees. Four foreign nuns, including an Indian, working as nurses were among those killed.

IS blamed for Yemen care home shooting, Pope calls it ‘diabolical’

Updated Mar 6, 2016, 7:21 am IST

Aden: Yemeni authorities have blamed the Islamic State group for an attack on a care home run by missionaries that killed 16 people and was condemned by Pope Francis as “diabolical”. Rival jihadist movement al Qaeda distanced itself from the mass shooting on Friday in the main southern city of Aden, saying it was not responsible.

Gunmen stormed the refuge for the elderly, operated by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, killing a Yemeni guard before tying up and shooting 15 other employees, officials said. Four foreign nuns working as nurses were among those killed. The Vatican missionary news agency, Fides, identified the nuns as two Rwandans, a Kenyan and an Indian, adding that the mother superior managed to hide and survive while an Indian priest was missing.
Screams of elderly residents echoed from the home during the shooting rampage, witnesses said, recounting seeing the bodies of slain workers with their arms tied behind their back.

No group has yet claimed the attack in the war-torn country, where the internationally recognised government is grappling with both an Iran-backed rebellion and a growing jihadist presence.

‘Treacherous terrorist acts’

An unnamed Yemeni presidency source in Riyadh said that those behind such “treacherous terrorist acts” are individuals who have “sold themselves to the devil”, in a statement on the official website.
“There was no trace of these groups, which go under the name of the Islamic State or (its Arabic acronym) Daesh” when pro-government forces were battling the Houthi rebels and their allies to push them out of Aden last year, the source said, accusing them of “switching roles” with the Iran-backed rebels.
In a statement addressed to the residents of Aden, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), also known as Ansar al Sharia, denied “any links to the attack on the elderly care home”.

“These are not our operations and this is not our way of fighting,” said the group, which has seized parts of southern and eastern Yemen. Al Qaeda has previously criticised IS for attacks on Shia mosques in Yemen that left dozens dead. Al Qaeda and IS have stepped up attacks in Aden, targeting mainly loyalists and members of a Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi rebels since March last year. The Houthis controlled Aden for months before government loyalists pushed them out in July. On Saturday, gunmen opened fire at a police patrol in Aden, killing two policemen, a security official said.

President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi has declared the city to be Yemen’s temporary capital as Sanaa has been in the hands of the Houthis and their allies since September 2014.

But Hadi and many senior officials spend most of their time in Riyadh.

‘Senseless and diabolical’

The Vatican’s secretary of state Pietro Parolin said that “his Holiness Pope Francis was shocked and profoundly saddened to learn of the killing of four Missionaries of Charity (nuns) and 12 others at a home for the elderly in Aden”.
“He sends the assurance of his prayers for the dead and his spiritual closeness to their families and to all affected from this act of senseless and diabolical violence,” Cardinal Parolin said in a statement.
Violence has mounted in Yemen during the past year, with more than 6,000 people killed since the Saudi-led coalition began its campaign of air strikes in late March 2015.

On Saturday, Hadi discussed the stalled peace process with UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in Riyadh, reported.
“Goodwill gestures and confidence-building measures by releasing detainees, lifting the siege on cities, and opening safe corridors to deliver humanitarian assistance to besieged provinces... are necessities that must be met” by the rebels, Hadi told the UN envoy.
Saudi Arabia’s UN ambassador said on Friday that he hoped peace talks could resume by March 15.

The United Nations says more than 80% of the population is in dire need of food, medicine and other basic necessities, and the crisis ranks as a “Level 3 emergency”, the most serious in the UN system.

Pope Francis Condemns World's Indifference to 4 Nuns Brutally Murdered in Yemen


March 7, 2016 | 8:27 am

Pope Francis has condemned the world's seeming indifference at the violent murder of four nuns, along with 12 other people, at a home for the elderly in Aden, Yemen. Gunmen reportedly entered the building on Friday, going room-to-room and handcuffing victims before shooting them in the head.
The four nuns killed in the incident had been Missionaries of Charity, prompting Francis to send "the assurance of his prayers for the dead and his spiritual closeness to their families and to all affected from this act of senseless and diabolical violence."

The Vatican leader has called the four murdered nuns "today's martyrs," condemning both the killers, and the global indifference toward the story.
"They do not make the front pages of the newspapers, they do not make the news. They have given their blood for the Church," Francis told thousands on Sunday at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.

"They are victims of the attack by those who killed them but also victims of indifference, of this globalization of indifference. They don't matter," he added.

Salesian Society confident of negotiating return of kidnapped priest

10 March 2016 | by Rose Gamble

The Salesians are confident that they can negotiate a release for an Indian Catholic priest despite there still being no clue to his whereabouts almost a week after terrorists snatched him during an attack on an old people’s home in Yemen that killed 16 people, including four Missionaries of Mercy.

Four gunmen attacked a convent and nursing home in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on 4 March, killing four nuns, two Yemeni female staff members, eight elderly residents and a guard. Father Tom Uzhunnali, a priest from Kerala, India, who is a member of the Salesian order, was praying in the chapel of the convent at the time of the attack. Yemeni authorities later confirmed the 56-year-old priest had been kidnapped, and blamed Isis for the attack. “We are aware that no group had claimed the attack ... but information points to Daesh,” a security official is reported to have said.

India’s minister of foreign affairs, Sushma Swaraj, has said that officials in neighbouring Djibouti were trying to ascertain the priest’s whereabouts to secure his release. However she has expressed doubts about the efficacy of the government there. The Vatican and Catholic’s Bishops Conference of India are reported to be involved in tracing the priest’s location. 

But Father Francesco Cereda, vicar of the rector major for the Salesians, is confident that they can locate and return the Salesian missionary to safety: “We believe that these efforts will not be in vain,” he told Catholic News Agency.
“However, in the highly fragmented society of Yemen, negotiations will definitely prove to be difficult, and we cannot predict how soon we will be able to achieve Father Tom’s liberation.”

A relative of Uzhunnali told the Indian newspapers that the priest had only returned to Aden in November and was waiting for a replacement before returning to India

Relatives Hopeful of Fr Tom's Return

Published: 13th March 2016 04:36 AM

KOCHI: "Since there is no bad news either, we are hopeful that he is safe," said Adv Augustine Mathew, a relative of Tom Uzhunnalil.

"We are trying to gather information through a relative in the External Affairs Ministry in Delhi. But, we are yet to get any update on his whereabouts," he added.

Sr Sally, a nun hailing from Thodupuzha who has been associated with the Missionaries of Charity, escaped the attack and was evacuated to a convent in Abu Dhabi early this week. Fr Uzhunnalil, who was reportedly praying in the chapel of the convent at the time of the attack, was kidnapped by the attackers. "We are told that the Salesians of Don Bosco has sought local help to find Fr Uzhunnalil," said Adv Augustine. "Reportedly, the Vatican is also getting involved in the efforts to liberate Fr Uzhunnalil from his abductors," he said.

Fr Uzhunnalil's parents are no more. His two brothers and one sister are in the US, and another brother is in Baroda.

No news still on Keralite priest abducted by gunmen in Yemen...

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No news still on Keralite priest abducted by gunmen in Yemen

Friday 18 March 2016 06:21 PM IST

“We are yet to get any information on the whereabouts or well-being of Fr Tom,” advocate Kunjaugusty, a second cousin of the priest, told Onmanorama over phone from Kottayam on Friday. 

Centre's assurance

“The central government and foreign affairs minister Sushma Swaraj have assured us all help. But even they are not able to make much headway due to the lack of a government in Yemen,” Kunjaugusty said. The lack of an Indian diplomatic presence in Yemen is also hampering the rescue efforts.

The Kerala government is constantly in touch with the Centre on Fr Uzhunnalil's situation. Chief minister Oommen Chandy spoke to Sushma Swaraj a couple of times. BJP state chief Kummnama Rajasekharan and Jose K Mani MP have also raised the issue with the Centre.

Vatican's efforts

“The Vatican has also intervened and is seeking the release of the priest. Vatican has a bishop's house along the UAE border, which is in contact with the locals in Yemen,” Kunjaugusty said.

Family worried

A local resident in Aden had reported that the gunmen had tied up Fr Uzhunnalil with the altar curtain before taking him away, said Kunjaugusty.

Uzhunnalil's family back home in Kottayam is also worried by social media messages that say the priest's life is in imminent danger. The authenticity of these messages have not been verified and their origin is unclear.

These reports have, however, added to the worries of the Uzhunnalil family, which is fervently praying for the safe return of the priest.
Fr Uzhunnalil has been carrying out his charity mission in Yemen for the past four years. He last visited visited Kerala in September, 2014, to attend his mother's funeral.

Meanwhile, Sister Sally, the Keralite mother superior of the charity home in Yemen that was attacked, has reached Oman and is in touch with her family in Thodupuzha. Sister Sally was the last person who saw Fr Uzhunnalil in Yemen. She had hidden herself in a room during the rampage and escaped the gunmen's bullets.

Local Priests react to the capture of fellow priest in Yemen

By  | 

False rumours of priest's crucifixion

New Delhi, March 25, 2016

An Indian Catholic priest, who is reportedly under the captivity of the ISIS in Yemen, could possibly be crucified on Good Friday.

The news of the crucifixion first appeared on a South African-based religious group's Facebook. The post read, "Was informed that the Salesian priest, Father Tom who was kidnapped from the Missionaries of Charity Home in Yemen is being tortured and is going to be crucified on Good Friday. This calls for serious concerted prayers from all of us."

While no one has officially claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, the religious group said that on March 20, they received information that the priest was being tortured under capture and could possibly be crucified on Good Friday.

However, members of Father Uzhunnalil's church dismissed the concerns as mere "rumours". They also said that they were yet to receive any information about the priest's whereabouts.

Father Mathew Valarkot told Catholic news source UCANews: "We have absolutely no information. Even today we do not know who has taken him and what their motives are...because no one has claimed responsibility. These are all rumours."

Govt making all efforts to secure release of Indian priest abducted in Yemen: Sushma Swaraj


No news still on Keralite priest abducted by gunmen in Yemen Friday 18 March 2016 06:21 PM IST...

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No news still on Keralite priest abducted by gunmen in Yemen...

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No news still on Keralite priest abducted by gunmen in Yemen...

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Published: March 27, 2016 3:26 am

India is making all efforts to secure the release of a priest from Kerala who was abducted by a terror group in Yemen last month, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Saturday.

The minister’s remarks came in the wake of reports claiming that the terror group planned to execute the priest on Good Friday. However, there was no report of any harm having come to him so far. Swaraj tweeted admitting that the Indian priest was kidnapped in Yemen.

“Father Tom Uzhunnallil — an Indian national from Kerala — was abducted by a terror group in Yemen. We are making all efforts to secure his release,” Swaraj said.

“Yemen is a conflict zone. We do not have Embassy there. But we will spare no efforts to rescue Father Tom Uzhunnalil,” Swaraj had tweeted earlier.

Confusion over abducted Kerala priest’s fate in Yemen

Kottayam, March 29, 2016 

The reports about the crucifixion of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, the Salesian priest who was abducted from an old-age home run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden in strife-torn Yemen, remain to be confirmed by official sources.

Confusion reigned over the priest’s fate on Monday, with conflicting versions being aired by different Church segments. Father Paul Thelakkat, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church, the biggest Catholic church formation in Kerala, informed The Hindu on Monday evening that the reports of Father Uzhunnalil’s crucifixion had finally been confirmed by the Salesian Order based in Bengaluru, to which Father Uzhunnalil belonged. Father Thelakkat had earlier in the day affirmed in a TV phone-in that he had enough reasons to believe that the reports of the crucifixion were right.

However, Fr. Joyce Francis, Provincial Superior of the Salesian Order contested Father Thelekkat’s contention. “I do not know from where Father Thelekkat got this information. I am the Provincial Superior and I have not made any statement of this nature,” he told The Hindu.

The Syro-Malabar Church spokesperson retracted his statement by night. He informed The Hindu that he now had credible information from Church sources in Yemen that Father Uzhunnalil was safe as of now.

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) sources informed that they had no verifiable confirmation of the reported crucifixion of the priest. “We have spoken to the Vatican, but they have not confirmed the incident to us,” they said. The MEA sources also said they do not know whether the priest was abducted by the Islamic State.

“There is a possibility that he might have been abducted by a criminal gang,” they said. The sources also took a serious view of some Church authorities issuing statements independently on the matter, which still needed clarity. “Are they bigger than the Vatican,” they retorted.

Fr. Uzhunnalil’s family at Ramapuram, near Pala, said they have been informed by one of their relatives who spoke to Archbishop Paul Hinder of Abu Dhabi, that reports about the crucifixion have not been confirmed.

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