Indian priest abducted in Afghanistan

The whereabouts of a Catholic priest abducted on June 2 in Afghanistan is still unknown.

47-year-old Rev Alexis Prem Kumar from Tamil Nadu was taken from a school in Herat province, run by the Jesuit Refugee Service, where he worked as director.

Gunmen entered the grounds and kidnapped Kumar in the early hours of the afternoon; he has not been seen or heard from since. The priest had been working in Afghanistan since 2011, after spending 6 years as director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in India.

"The group of unidentified kidnappers surrounded the school campus about 12:45pm, fired shots in the air, caught hold of Kumar, and drove off with him in a car. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction," South Asia regional director for the Refugee Service Rev. Stan Fernandes said in a statement.

India's Foreign Ministry is said to be "pursuing the matter with local authorities".

The Khaama Press news service reports that a suspect has been arrested, however, though he has not been identified to the media.

In response to the incident, International Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, Rev Peter Balleis, has commented, "We are deeply shocked by Prem's abduction".

"We are in contact with all the relevant authorities and doing everything possible to ensure his safe and speedy return," he added.

"Our prayers are with Prem and his family and friends at this difficult time."

Afghanistan has been named the fifth most dangerous place for Christians to live by researchers at persecution charity Open Doors, which has given it a risk factor of "extreme persecution".

According to the World Watch List, "The situation in the country remains unstable, and Islamic extremist groups continue to gain power. Christianity is still considered a 'Western' religion, and is seen as hostile to Afghan culture, society and Islam.

"Those who leave Islam are treated as apostates, and face huge pressures from family, society and local authorities. In September 2013, an Afghan MP called for the execution of converts to Christianity.

"There is no public church...Christian converts keep their faith secret, since any connection with Christianity is dangerous."

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