News & Politics

Four of Mother Teresa's Nuns Among 16 People Massacred in Yemen

A Yemeni man inspects an elderly care home after it was attacked by gunmen in the port city of Aden, Yemen, Friday, March 4, 2016. Unidentified gunmen stormed a retirement home run by Catholic nuns in the southern city of Aden on Friday shooting more than a dozen people to death, including several Indian nuns, Yemeni security officials and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Wael Qubady)

Unidentified gunmen stormed a Catholic-run retirement home in southern Yemen last Friday, killing 16 people, including four Catholic nuns. A priest was taken captive and is still missing. The retirement home, run by the Missionaries of Charity — an organization established by Mother Teresa of Calcutta — houses 80 elderly people in the jihadist-infested port city of Aden. The four gunmen reportedly entered the the home on the pretext that they wanted to visit their mothers at the facility.

Via the Guardian:

The gunmen moved from room to room, handcuffing the victims before shooting them in the head. A nun who survived and was rescued by local residents said she hid inside a fridge in a storeroom after hearing a Yemeni guard shouting “run, run”.

Khaled Haidar said that he counted 16 bodies, including that of his brother, Radwan. All had been shot in the head and were handcuffed. He said one Yemeni cook and Yemeni guards were among those killed.

Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil — the priest who was kidnapped —  was reportedly praying in the convent’s chapel at the time of the attack, and was taken by the gunmen to an unknown location. Fr. Francesco Cereda, vicar of the Rector Major for the Salesians, told the Catholic News Agency that they “trust there is every chance for the release” of Fr. Tom.

He said that “the Central Government of India through its Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is involved in trying to ascertain the whereabouts” of the priest.

In addition, “the Chief Minister of the federal state of Kerala, the home state of Fr. Tom, has also taken personal interest in the matter and is in touch with the MEA in New Delhi.” Even “the Vatican, as well as the Catholic Bishops Conference of India are also involved” in tracing the priest’s location.

“Prayers are being offered throughout the Salesian world for his speedy release. We believe that these efforts will not be in vain,” Fr. Cereda said.

The Salesians have had a mission in Yemen since 1997. Initially, it was part of the Apostolic Vicariate of Aden, established by Pope Leo XIII in 1885.

Salesians are the only Catholic priests working in the country. They provide their services in four cities: the capital of Sana’a, Aden, Holeida and Taiz.

Although no terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack, it is believed by Indian officials to be the work of  the Islamic State in Yemen. The savage murder of beloved nuns who had dedicated their lives to helping Yemen’s most needy was egregious enough for al-Qaeda to deny its involvement:

“Our honorable people of Aden, we Ansar al-Sharia deny any connection or relation to the operation that targeted the elders’ house,” said al-Qaeda’s umbrella group in Yemen, in a statement released on Sunday. “This is not our operation and it’s not our way of fighting.”

Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin called the attack “an act of senseless and diabolical violence,” and Pope Francis prayed that “this pointless slaughter will awaken consciences, lead to a change of heart and inspire all parties to lay down their arms and take up the path of dialogue.”

According to the Daily Mail, a  Yemeni official in Riyadh said in a statement that those behind such “treacherous terrorist acts” are individuals who have “sold themselves to the devil.”

The heinous attack hasn’t been a big story in the United States, however. Newsbusters reported earlier this week that American broadcast media has been noticeably silent about the attack:

As of Tuesday morning, ABC, CBS, and NBC’s morning and evening newscasts have yet to cover the attack by suspected ISIS gunmen in Aden, Yemen on Friday which left 16 people dead…

No one in the Obama administration seems to have noticed it, either.

Yemen, once touted by President Obama as as a successful example of his counter-terrorism strategy, descended into unending chaos after Iran-backed Houthi forces took over the capital in January of 2015.