Yellow Ribbon Project

Does ISIS Intend to Kill Kidnapped Priest?

Father Tom Uzhunnalil

Internet rumors swirled that a Catholic priest kidnapped in Yemen would be executed by ISIS on Good Friday.

His order, though, stressed that they have no information one way or the other about the current whereabouts or fate of Father Tom Uzhunnalil.

Father Tom, of Indian origin, was kidnapped March 4 when militants attacked the Missionaries of Charity Home in Aden as nuns were serving breakfast to the retirement home residents. Four nuns — one Indian, two Rwandan and one Kenyan — were among the 16 people murdered in the attack.

The superior of the convent, Sister Sally, eluded the terrorists by hiding in a refrigerator. Father Tom was staying at the convent, which was ransacked by the trio of gunmen.

Father Tom’s Salesian order says they’ve had no information since the priest went missing.

But on Monday, the Franciscan Sisters of Siessen, an order based in South Africa, posted on their Facebook page a notice that they were “informed” that Father Tom “is being tortured and is going to be crucified on Good Friday.” The post has since been removed, but not before the news spread across the web.

That day, the Salesian news agency responded to the report.

“It has come to our notice that some unverifiable and unconfirmed reports have been circulating these days especially in the electronic media on the present status and condition of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, who has been abducted in Aden, Yemen, on 4th March by unidentified gunmen. We, Salesians, are not responsible for the content or its authenticity,” said Father Mathew Valarkot, spokesman for the Salesian Bangalore province that’s Father Tom’s home.

“In this context, we reiterate that till date no further information has come to us from credible and authoritative sources regarding the whereabouts or wellbeing of Fr Tom,” he said. “Therefore we earnestly appeal to all concerned to desist from forwarding all such unsolicited and misleading messages and spreading false rumors. In the meantime, let us continue to pray for Fr Tom so that the Lord may protect him from all harm and relieve him from the clutches of the evil forces sooner than later.”

The torture and crucifixion rumors appear to have originated on social media.

The Indian Foreign Ministry and Vatican officials are trying to locate the priest.

“But even today we do not know who has taken him and what their motives are because no one has claimed responsibility,” Father Valarkot said.

The Salesians are holding out hope that Father Tom will be released, noting that Father Alexis Prem Kumar, who was kidnapped by Islamists in Afghanistan in June 2014, was released nine months later. The Jesuit Refugee Service praised the role of the Indian government in securing that priest’s release.