Kidnapped Priest Tom Uzhunnalil Blindfolded and Beaten by Captors in Yemen Hostage Video

Father Tom Uzhunnalil
Father Tom Uzhunnalil |

Questions remain about the fate of abducted Indian priest Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in March by armed militants in Yemen, even after a video was reportedly released on social media purporting to show a frail, weakened and bearded Uzhunnalil being beaten.

Footage and a photograph were posted on Uzhunnalil's Facebook page on Tuesday by a person claiming to be a "Yemeni friend" of the abducted priest who was kidnapped during a raid on a Missionaries of Charity retirement home in Aden in which militants took the lives of 16 civilians and four nuns.

Tom Uzhunnalil
Photo purporting to show a frail and weakened Father Tom Uzhunnalil that was posted to the abducted priest's Facebook page on July 19, 2016. |

The photo shows a frail and weak man with a large gray beard clutching his chest. The caption included with the photo stated that "an entreaty seeking his release would be uploaded soon."

As Uzhunnalil's Facebook account has since been deactivated, the Kerala-based Manorama Online reports that a video was uploaded to the Facebook page showing a blindfolded man being assaulted by a group of men.

The "Yemeni friend," who claims he was assigned by Uzhunnalil to post on his account to reveal the truth about the priest's abduction, said he found the video on Twitter.

Although there has been no official confirmation from the Salesian Church that the man in the photograph is Uzhunnalil, the prelate's family believes that the bearded man in the picture is their loved one.

The Indian news organization The News Minute spoke with Uzhunnalil's relative, Augustine.

"Many people in the family have checked the picture and feel it is father Uzhunnalil's," Augustine was quoted as saying. "This is the first time such a picture has come. The only solace is that we know he is alive."

However, a "credible" source close to the situation who spoke with the Catholic News Agency expressed doubt that the man in the photo is the abducted priest.

"I have checked with a confrere with (the) Yemen experience and very close to Father Tom who shares my doubts about the authenticity of the photo," the source said.

While it was initially believed that Uzhunnalil was abducted by the Islamic State, it was reported in May that Uzhunnalil was "safe" in Yemen and being held by anti-government forces within the country. He was reportedly able to speak with church officials.

Although the Indian government is trying to work with the Yemeni government to secure the release of Uzhunnalil, Augustine told The News Minute that the Indian government has not been able to make much headway.

"There is no government there and so our government is finding it tough to hold talks," Augustine said. "We don't believe he has been taken away by Islamic State, but perhaps by a smaller group. The caption on the picture says his plea would be posted soon, waiting for that."

Having been abducted in March, it was originally rumored that Uzhunnalil was to be executed on Good Friday. However, that rumor proved false.

Even though some disagree about the authenticity of the picture, there is somewhat of a consensus that Uzhunnalil is still alive.

"We simply do not have any verified news about [Uzhunnalil], though I am convinced that Father Tom is alive," the credible source who spoke with the Catholic News Agency said, adding that his Facebook account "has been hacked, most probably by the kidnappers."

"It is now used to send such messages in order to make pressure," the source added.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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