Church denies rumours that ISIS has crucified kidnapped priest

The Indian priest kidnapped by suspected Islamic State militants on March 4 is probably still alive, church officials have said, despite reports that he was crucified on Friday.

Salesian priest Fr Tom Uzhunnalil was kidnapped by suspected ISIS militants on March 4.

Father Tom Uzhunnalil, 56, was captured when militants overran a missionary home for elderly people in Aden, Yemen, where he worked. Sixteen people, including four nuns, were killed in the attack. No confirmed news has since emerged of Uzhunnalil's fate, though rumours that he was being tortured and would be crucified on Good Friday emerged last week following comments allegedly made by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna.

According to The Telegraph, Uzhunnalil's death was then reported by a Dubai-based prayer group with close ties to the home.

However, these rumours have since been denied by church leaders.

Bishop Paul Hinder of Southern Arabia told the Catholic News Agency on Monday that there are "strong indications that Father Tom is still alive in the hands of the kidnappers".

"I have no confirmation that anything happened Good Friday," he added. "Cardinal Schönborn has already corrected his statement, which he had made on the basis of the wrong statement of Archbishop Moras in Bangalore. Certain media in India are too nervous and curious and not aware that they are playing with the life of Father Tom."

Hinder said he was unable to give further information for fear of endangering Uzhunnalil's life.

Hinder's statement follows a similar denial from the Salesian order in Bangalore, to which Uzhunnalil belongs.

Spokesman Father Mathew Valarkot last week described the reports of Uzhunnalil's crucifixion 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."