Thiruvananthapuram/New Delhi: A Catholic priest from Kerala, Tom Uzhunnallil, abducted by terrorists in Aden in March last year, has been rescued from captivity from an undisclosed location in Yemen, with the intervention of the Oman government.
Uzhunnallil, who hails from Ramapuram in Kottayam district, was brought to Muscat, the capital of Oman, on Tuesday morning.
Later, he left Muscat on board a Royal Oman Air force aircraft for an audience with the Pope in Vatican and reached Rome. The Bangalore Salesian Province, to which the priest belongs, received a message in this regard.
The priest will return to Kerala after spending a few days there.
Uzhannallil is an employee of the Vatican, which has been engaged in talks with various quarters for his release.
The Oman government took the lead in getting him released after a papal representative visited Oman last month and had an audience with the King of that country.
According to a statement of the Sultanate of Oman, "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 a Vatican government employee. He was transferred this morning to Muscat in preparation for his return home."
According to a Times of Oman report, Uzhunnallil expressed his thanks to God and to Sultan Qaboos, and wished him good health and wellness.
"He also thanked his brothers, sisters and all relatives and friends who prayed for his safety and release," the statement added.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted about the release of the Catholic priest, who was abducted in March last year.
"I am happy to inform that Father Tom Uzhunnalil has been rescued," she said.
The media in Oman confirmed the news of the release of the priest and posted a picture of him -- standing in a room with the picture of the Oman king in the background.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressed happiness at his release. "The Kerala government will now extend all the help that is needed for his treatment and other things," said Pinarayi in a Facebook post.
Former chief minister Oommen Chandy, during whose term the abduction took place, also expressed happiness over the priest's release.
"We did everything possible and the efforts of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is laudable, who was always willing to give her best. The Abu Dhabi diocese of the Church of the priest also took huge interest. We are all really happy at his release," said Chandy.
Newly sworn in minister of state for tourism, IT and electronics Alphons Kannanthanam, from whose district the priest hails, said the release became a reality because of concerted team effort.
"Special thanks to prime minister Modi and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has to be said," he said.
Expressing happiness at the news, the priest's brother Mathew Uzhunnallil said their prayers have been finally answered. Uzhunnallil's ancestral home in Ramapuram in Kottayam district is presently shut as two of his brothers live abroad, while another lives in Gujarat.
Hearing the news, relatives of the priest gathered at the home of a relative who lives close by the ancestral home.
"We have heard that he has been flown to Rome. He is attached to the Bangalore diocese and they also called us to tell the happy news," said a close relative of the priest.
In March 2016, militants barged into a care home for the elderly set up by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in Yemen's Aden and shot dead many people, including four nuns of the charity organization, among whom one was from India.
After the shooting, the militants took away the Catholic priest. Since then, other than a few videos released from time to time, there had been no news of his whereabouts.