THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Fr Tom Uzhannalal, who was in charge of Missionaries of Charity care home in Aden, was taken captive by four gun-wielding terrorists around 8:30 am on March 4, 2016 after they handcuffed and shot dead four nuns, six Ethiopians, a Yemeni cook and five Yemeni watchmen. A nun escaped as she had hid herself in the store. The home had 80 inmates. Fr Uzhannalil hails from Ramapuram in Kottayam. Parents Varghese and Thressiakutty are no more. He had visited Kerala in 2014 and March 22, 2015 to attend the funeral of his mother and a relative, Fr Mathew Uzhannalil, respectively. He returned to Aden mission station a month later. He had worked as senior director of Don Bosco Technical Institute, Vaduthala in Kochi and had worked in Kolar and Bengaluru.
The missionary had gone to Yemen on his own despite the area being a war zone. Most Indians had returned from the area on the direction of the government. The Church had also requested him to return. But it was due to his four years of past experience in Yemen that prompted him to revisit that country. The visit this time was after taking over as the Administrator of Bengaluru based Christhu Jyothi Theology College. As war had broken out, he stayed at Abu Dhabi and Indian Embassy for three months before reaching Yemen. He went to Yemen capital Sana’a as representative of the UN. It took more than a month for him to reach the home for elderly run by Missionaries of Charity in Yemen.
Sr Sally, who was along with Fr Tom on the day of ISIS attack, was lucky to survive. For her it was the worst nightmare. Four armed terrorists had attacked the elderly home having 80 inmates on March 4, 2016 at 8.30 am. The terrorists had barged into the compound when gates were opened for visitors coming to the hospital. They entered the premises after killing two security personnel. At that time the father was praying in Chapel.On seeing the terrorists, Sr Sally tried to call him over phone. But by that time the terrorists had barged into the room. She hid behind a store door. A patient and his relative were witness to the father being blindfolded and taken away by the terrorists.
The absence of Indian Embassy and the entire area being under the control of army personnel belonging to different nation compounded the problem. In the meanwhile the Vatican intervened in the matter following which the Oman Government initiated efforts to seek his release. The Indian government was also in touch with Yemen. Taking into account Vatican’s intervention, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said issued a Royal directive which triggered fresh efforts for security his release.
In June family member of Fr Tom submitted a petition to Governor P Sathasivam seeking Central intervention. A CBCI delegation headed by Cardinal Baselios Cleemis along with MPs from Kerala met Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding his intervention. NHRC also sought explanation from Central government on the steps taken for the release. In February this year the Prime Minister had assured Cardinals that that the government would do everything to get him released. The union external affairs ministry had also constituted a three-member committee headed by a secretary Amar Sinha to coordinate with Vatican and other countries to seek the release of Fr Tom.