It was with stooped shoulders, sunken eyes and unsteady steps that a visibly weak but elated Father Tom Uzhunnalil tentatively found his way down the boarding ladder of a Royal Air Force of Oman aircraft on Tuesday morning.
The release came as much as a relief to the Indian government as it has to the Vatican but it was the Sultanate of Oman that claimed all credit for the release of one of the most celebrated hostages the world has seen in recent times. “In response to the Royal Orders of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and as per a request from the Vatican to assist in the rescuing of a Vatican employee, the concerned authorities in the Sultanate, in coordination with the Yemeni authorities, have managed to find ... (him),” the Oman government said in a statement online. The absence of any reference to the involvement of the Indian government has not been taken cognisance of by Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj as she tweeted her happiness about Father Tom’s rescue.
The priest has been in the Islamic State’s captivity for over 18 months, since his abduction from an old-age home in Aden on 4 March 2016, when four gunmen stormed the institution, killing eight elderly residents, four Indian nuns, two Yemeni women staff and one guard. Father Tom was taken hostage while one nun survived. In May this year, a video of the Father appeared on YouTube: He blamed both the Indian government and the Vatican for not doing enough to secure his release. He tore into claims back home that all efforts were on to ensure he walked free. He also lamented then he had to face such a fate as he was an Indian.
At that time, it was speculated what he said was as per the captors’ script. On Tuesday, Father Tom thanked God Almighty, Sultan Qaboos and all those who prayed for him. Meanwhile, Ramapuram in Kottayam is getting ready to celebrate the return of its most celebrated son, as is the whole of Kerala.