Report On Kidnapped Indian Catholic Priest by Yemeni Counter-Terrorism Expert

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Summer Al-Ahmed, Yemeni counterterrorism analyst and writes for reputed Yemeni newspapers Aden Time & Sout Alganoub. She tweets at @sumyem

Indian Catholic priest Father Tom was abducted in Yemen last year. On 4 March 2016, right before noon nurses and other staff members had just finished reciting the “joy of giving” prayer and were preparing food for the elderly residents when four men came to the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s Home for the Elderly in Aden, Yemen.

 

 

Video of father Tom released this week by Yemeni media houses like Aden Alghad

 

The 4 men convinced the guards at the gate that they were there to visit their mother. When the guards allowed them in they pulled out their guns that had silencers attached and started shooting randomly killing one guard and injuring others. When they entered the home, eyewitness said they were shooting randomly. Then they found the Catholic nurses, they rounded them up, tied their hands and shot them in execution style with no mercy.

 

They killed 16 people that day including 4 nuns, 2 from Rwanda, 1 Indian and 1 from Kenya. They killed 5 Ethiopian women assistants and the other 4 were southern Yemenis helping at the home.

 

Aden was heartbroken when the attack happened. Links between South Yemen and India go back to when both were British colonies. Also Aden prides itself in its diversity, we have churches and religious temples of many faiths.

A photo of protests in front of the nursing home after the attack last year

A Hindu Temple in Aden, Yemen

 

South Yemen gained its independence from Britain in 1967, then it was an independent country until it united with North Yemen in 1990 to create modern day Yemen.

 

Yemen unity devastated South Yemen’s diversity and religious tolerance. The conservative north Yemen enforced religious rule and brainwashed many people. Many churches were destroyed and Temples closed. That’s why we do our best to try and preserve whatever is left.

 

We love India and the great connections we have with them. We send our students to study in India and we send our sick to get treated in India, while indians still come to Aden to serve as teachers and doctors and also as aid workers and volunteers like Father Tom and his staff.

 

If you notice the video, his health is deteriorating compare to the video they released in December. Efforts to release him have failed 4 times so far. There was an attempt to free him last year by southern security forces backed by UAE but when they got to the location, it looked like they had moved Father Tom from there weeks back.

 

I will narrate what people in Aden think about the incident. AQAP (Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula) said they weren’t responsible. IS didn’t officially claim it but they are the ones accused of the attack. People in Aden have a different story- they actually accuse Saleh’s national security operatives. Though Aden is under control of Hadi government but Saleh’s forces still hold clout there. A conspiracy theory, yes, but the people of Aden are very familiar with such attacks being perpetrated by unknown sources linked to Saleh government.

 

AQAP have been in Yemen since the 1990s when the Mujahideen returned from Afghanistan and resettled in Yemen, specifically in southern Yemen. Then they were used by then President Saleh and Islah against the southern separatists. In the war in 1994 and as enforcers of the unity government. AQAP also had a set of rules to win the hearts and minds of the local. They didn’t target religious institutions, even of Christians. (There were 5 churches in Aden in 2015. When the Houthis invaded Aden, they vandalized and looted 3 churches, while AQAP burnt 2 churches. Prior to that those religious institutions churches were protected. There are many nuances to Yemen and the targeting of religious institutions isn’t black and white. AQAP typically razes a place to the ground while attacking it to take over. Historical places and religious institutions are prime targets. But there are some codes they follow. AQAP don’t target Houthi shrines thought they hate Houthis and call them ‘Rwafdh’ or ‘someone who rejects true teachings of Islam’. But IS have no rules or codes of war they abide by.)

 

AQAP also worked with the tribes to provide services such as health services, security, education and water that the government wasn’t providing. That’s how AQAP installed deep roots in the south. As for IS, they are a new creation. They just sprung up in the summer of 2015 after Aden was liberated from Houthi forces.

 

IS in Yemen came into existence after Aden was liberated from the Houthis. They’re don’t seem to be IS anyway , similar to IS in Afghanistan or Bangladesh aren’t. Many are of the view that IS in Yemen is created by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. What is surprising is that the main targets of IS have been southern movement (South Hirak) leadership and security officers.

 

The video of Father Tom released released day before yesterday is 3 weeks as can be seen from the placard he is holding. There was a video released in December last year right after governor Aiderous Alzubaidi was appointed gov of Aden. So the timing when they release those videos are always questionable.

 

The release of the video and timing is for analysts to decipher but I can assume is that the delay is so they have time to cover their tracks in case terror analysts find ways to track them and also political as a new governor is coming in. Aiderous Alzubaidi who’s a separatist and UAE backed was sacked by the Hadi government and replaced by a new governor Abdul Aziz Almuflihi who’s close to president Hadi and vice president Ali Mohsin Alahmar. People in the south were furious about Hadi’s decree to sack Al-Zubaidi and there was lots of media attention on Aden.

 

The timing could also be to pressurize the incoming governor. Or maybe because Aden is in the spotlight again and they wanna make sure people are also watching them. From what Father Tom mentioned in the video that his captures have tried contacting Catholic Bishops in UAE and others with no response. Releasing the video is a way of putting international pressure on India and the Vatican to do more to release him. The kidnappers are asking for ransom, so their aim could be financial just like how other terrorist groups worldwide kidnap foreigners to get money. My sources say that they’re also asking for “other things” but didn’t divulge further details.

 

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