Kidnapped priest Fr Tom Uzhunnalil is still alive and could be freed 'imminently', says bishop

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

Fr Tom Uzhunnalil is still alive though he remains in captivity, according to his bishop.

Uzhunnalil, from Bangalore in India, was kidnapped by ISIS gunmen who murdered four Indian nuns, two Yemeni female staff members, eight elderly residents and a guard at a nursing home in Aden, Yemen, on March 4.

Wild internet rumours said his captors would crucify him on Good Friday, but no evidence for the claim was ever produced and both his superiors and the Indian government consistently denied it.

Bishop Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, told the Fides news agency: "The last words, which are quite reassuring, I received indirectly about ten days ago. I was told that Father Tom is alive, and that his return to freedom could be imminent. But since then nothing has happened. We hope and pray for him."

Pope Francis has urged prayer for Uzhunnalil's safety. However, the Indian priest is not the only one to be held by Islamist terrorists; two Orthodox bishops were kidnapped just over two years ago in Syria. Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazii, both from Aleppo, were kidnapped three years ago on April 22 near the city. Catholic priest Fr Jack Mourad was captured last year but released.

Aden has been racked by lawlessness since supporters of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, backed by Gulf Arab military forces, drove fighters of the Iran-allied Houthi group from the city in July last year. International aid groups have pulled most of their foreign staff from Yemen due to security concerns.