The Keralite priest who was abducted by gunmen in Yemen Friday, had refused to abandon his charity work despite threats to his life earlier from the terrorists.
The whereabouts of Fr Tom Uzhunnalil are still unclear but advocate Kunjaugusty, a second cousin of the priest, shared with Onmanorama more details on what happened Friday.
The terror strike
The gunmen stormed into the compound of the elderly care facility Friday around 8.30 am after mass. They first locked up Uzhunnalil inside the chapel. Then they barged into the elderly care home run by Missionaries of Charity on the same campus and fired indiscriminately, killing 16 people including four nuns.
The gunmen then returned to the chapel, handcuffed Uzhunnalil and drove him away in their vehicle to some unknown location, Kunjagusty said based on eyewitness accounts shared with him by Fr M.J. George, a Keralite living in Yemen's Hodeidah city.
The gunmen also completely destroyed the chapel.
This is not the first time the Uzhunnalil family is facing such a crisis. Fr Tom's uncle, the late Fr Mathew Uzhunnalil, too had carried out missionary work in Yemen and faced many threats; the hostile situation in his area of work eased for a while only after the Vatican intervened. Fr Mathew passed away last year.
Fr Tom has been carrying out his charity mission in Yemen for the past four years. But the recent surge of extremism had made it difficult for him to continue with his work, and he had to be on the guard while even going to attend mass.
Last September, gunmen had set on fire a church where he was deputed. Since then, the 56-year-old was staying at the elderly care home, run by Missionaries of Charity.
There were constant threats to Fr Tom's life but Friday's was the first time he was targeted.
Did Fr Tom ever consider returning?
"No," says Kunjaugusty. "The priest had gone there for charity work; it was his vocation. He is not someone to bow down to terror tactics," Kunjaugusty says.
Efforts for Fr Tom's release
It was the Indian embassy that informed the Uzhunnalil family of the abduction. The relatives are in constant touch with the embassy officials. However, they too acknowledge that the lack of a proper government in Yemen is making it difficult for the Indian government to locate the priest.
Fr Tom last contacted his family via social networking sites on Thursday. No one lives at his ancestral home in Ramapuram near Pala in Kottayam. Most of his siblings reside abroad.
Fr Tom's relatives are in constant touch with the various government offices for any updates on his situation, even as they fervently pray for the well-being of this brave man of God.