Father Tom Uzhunalil's rescue news has brought joy and relief to his relatives and colleagues back in Kerala. Father Uzhunnalil, a native of Ramapuram village in Kottayam, Kerala was abducted allegedly by ISIS terrorists on March 4, 2016 from Yemen. Tom, who was engaged in missionary activities in Yemen since 2010, in fact returned after a brief vacation despite advisory warnings by the Government of India. Ever since reports emerged that Father has been in terror captive, both the state and central government put in all possible efforts bring back their citizen.
India Today has learnt that Indian authorities were in touch with intelligence agencies and various governments in the West Asian region to help in rescue efforts but it was the Omani Government that finally managed to secure Father Tom's release.
India Today also learnt that the Vatican was closely monitoring the situation and played a key role in the release. In an official statement the Omani government said, "In response to the Royal Orders of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, and as per a request from the Vatican to assist in the rescuing of a Vatican employee, the concerned authorities in the Sultanate, in coordination with the Yemeni authorities, have managed to find him. He was transferred Tuesday morning to Muscat in preparation for his return home in Kerala".
A frail looking Father Uzhunnalil was seen in photographs disembarking from a plane. He reportedly thanked his brothers and sisters and all relatives and friends who called on God for his safety and release. Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India thanked the Indian Government for its persistence.
"In different meetings with the Foreign Minister, she assured us that Father Tom was safe and that the Government would do everything to get him released. The Prime Minister too had assured us that all would be done to get him released," the Catholic body said in a statement.
Father Tom Uzhunanlil was in charge of an old age home in Aden since 2010. Amidst the wave of crisis that started in 2011, Tom stood his ground engaged in social service activities and letting a helping hand to the elderly and war ridden people in the area. In 2015 when the crisis reached its peak, Tom came to India on a very brief visit. Tom after attending his mother's death anniversary function in Kottayam, returned to Yemen despite the advisory warnings from the government. Moreover, he did not want to leave his team and inmates in Aden to die starving.
On March 4, 2016 a huge explosion shook their old age home, a group of armed extremists opene fired at the people, killing 14 inmates and 3 nuns from Kerala on the spot. The only survivors of this attack were Father Uzhunalill and Sister Sally. While Tom was held captive by the terrorists, Sally managed to hide from the terrorists and later escaped. Sally was the first to report that Father Tom has gone missing. Amidst ambiguity of his whereabouts, in May 2015, a video emerged in which Father Tom Uzhunalil was seen pleading for help in terrorist captive. Though the then Chief Minister of Kerala, Oommen Chandy, along with Sushma Swaraj explored all possible options for his release, everything went in vain.
Later in 2016, December, another video emerged, in which Father Tom Uzhunalil even criticised the government for his situation. Though there were rumors that he may be crucified as part of Good Friday, the third video emerged in April, 2017. Much to the agony of his relatives and government, Tom Uzhunalil looked weak and he said that his health condition was deteriorating.
This release comes as news of great relief for his relatives and the governments at both centre and state. While Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, released the information through Twitter, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressed immense joy in his release. Late in the night, Sushma Swaraj confirmed that Father Tom Uzhunalil has reached Vatican. According to sources, close to Salesian headquarters in Bengaluru, Uzhunalil who is physically and mentally weak, will spend some days in Vatican before returning to Kerala.