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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Abducted Indian priest rescued in Yemen after 18 months

Father Uzhunnalil was abducted in March 2016 from the home for the elderly in Aden where he was chaplain

Indian priest, Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped in Aden,Yemen, arrives in Muscat, Oman, on September 12, 2017. He was freed after 18 months in captivity. Hamid Al Qasmi / EPA
Indian priest, Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped in Aden,Yemen, arrives in Muscat, Oman, on September 12, 2017. He was freed after 18 months in captivity. Hamid Al Qasmi / EPA

An Indian Catholic priest who was kidnapped by militants from an old people's home in Yemen has been rescued after 18 months of captivity,after Oman secured his freedom.

The release of Father Tom Uzhannalil, who is from Ramapuram in Kerala, south India, was announced on Twitter on Tuesday by India's external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.

Father Uzhunnalil had been the chaplain or more than four years at the home which was established by Mother Teresa's religious order, the Missionaries of Charity, the the port city of Aden, on the south coast of Yemen. In March last year, armed militants entered the old people's home, posing as relatives of one of the residents. They killed 16 people, including four nuns, and also destroyed the chapel and the old people's home. There were about 80 residents at the home at the time of the attack.

In a video released on a local website in May, Father Uzhunnalil pleaded for help. Speaking slowly in English, he said, "They are treating me well to the extent they are able. My health condition is deteriorating quickly and I require hospitalisation as early as possible. My dear family, do what you can to help me be released."

The date April 15, 2017 was written on a piece of cardboard stuck to his body. The priest said his kidnappers had contacted the Indian government and the Catholic bishop in Abu Dhabi with their demands.

The Omani state news agency said the Omani authorities "coordinated with Yemeni parties" to free Uzhunnalil, at the request of the sultan.

Father Uzhunnalil, who is in his mid-50s, was pictured on Tuesday wearing local traditional dress and with a flowing but tidy white beard grown while in captivity. Footage from Oman TV showed him disembarking from a Royal Air Force of Oman plane unaided, but struggling to walk down the steps to the tarmac. However, he appeared relatively healthy as he stood before a portrait of Oman's Sultan Qaboos, whom he thanked - after thanking God — for his release. .

"Our prayers were finally heard. We thank all who stood with us in trying times," the priest's older brother, Mathew, said.

Nuns from the Missionaries of Charity also came under attack in Yemen in 1998, when gunmen killed three nuns in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida.