Church officials urge prayer for Yemen priest held by ISIS, deny crucifixion rumours

Salesian priest Fr Tom Uzhunnalil is being held prisoner by Islamic State.

Internet rumours that Indian priest Father Tom Uzhunnalil is being tortured by Islamic State and will be crucified on Good Friday are untrue, according to Church officials.

The priest, from Bangalore, was kidnapped by suspected Islamic State fighters who overran a home for elderly people in Aden, killing four nuns. In all, 16 people died in the attack. Uzhunnalil was kidnapped and nothing has been heard of him since.

It is unclear how the rumours that he was being tortured and would be crucified began. However, they have been widely circulated, leading to a flat denial from the spokesman for the Bangalore province of the Salesians, the order to which Uzhunnalil belongs.

Fr Mathew Valarkot described the reports as "unconfirmed and unverifiable". He said: "We, Salesians, are not responsible for the content or its authenticity.

"In this context, we reiterate that till date no further information has come to us from credible and authoritative sources regarding the whereabouts or wellbeing of Fr Tom. Therefore we earnestly appeal to all concerned to desist from forwarding all such unsolicited and misleading messages and spreading false rumours.

"In the meantime, let us continue to pray for Fr Tom so that the Lord may protect him from all harm and relieve him from the clutches of the evil forces sooner than later."

Valarkot had previously stressed that there was "absolutely no information" on Uzhunnalil. "Even today we do not know who has taken him and what their motives are because no one has claimed responsibility," he said.

Islamic State has previously held prisoners for ransom and is believed to have raised large sums of money from the practice.

However, there have been many reports of priests being tortured and murdered after being taken captive. On at least one occasion a ransom was paid for a priest who was killed anyway and returned to his family in pieces.