Were the Governments of India and Oman, and perhaps even the Vatican on the same page in the release of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was held captive in Yemen for the past 18 months?
And did India’s most popular Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj retweet her own old rescue tweets to ‘cover up’ the embarrassment?
Oman’s official news agency tweeted the release of Uzhunnalil at 9.02 am (10.32 IST).
— وكالةالأنباءالعمانية (@OmanNewsAgency) September 12, 2017
Swaraj’s first tweet on the release appeared at 3.40 pm IST — nearly five hours after the Oman agency’s first tweet:
However, the tweet had originally gone out over 12 hours prior. Note the time stamp that reads 3.10 am.
In a statement shared in the tweet by the Oman News Agency, the Oman government said that Uzhunnalil was released in response to Oman ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s order as per the request from the Vatican government. “The concerned authorities in the Sultanate, in coordination with the Yemeni authorities, has managed to find a Vatican government employee. He was transferred this morning to Muscat in preparation for his return home,” the statement read.
The statement did not have any mention of the Indian government’s role in his release.
In Oman, when the first statement issued in the morning and the second one at 6.46 pm did not have any mention of the Indian government’s role in the release, in New Delhi, Indian minister Swaraj started to retweet the tweets of earlier rescue operations.
In a series of tweets, the minister relived the’ rescue mission of Sister Sally in 2016 from Yemen, Judith D’Souza’s release from Afghanistan and in 2016 and Father Alex Prem Kumar’s release from Afghanistan in 2015.
Bino PP, a resident in Muscat, said it was strange that the minister felt the need to retweet her old tweets. “She is the best external affairs minister I have seen in Indian history. She has stayed awake late at night when the entire world was sleeping to coordinate rescue operations in Yemen,” Bino said.
“We respect her. She is doing a great job. We all know that she has played a vital role in the release. So, she doesn’t have to retweet her old tweets to prove herself,” Bino added.
According to sources in Muscat, the rescue of Uzhunnalil was secured by Vatican and Oman government.
“There are unconfirmed reports that money was paid and a chartered flight was flown to Muscat from Vatican to fly Uzhunnalil back to Rome,” a source who is familiar with the issue said.
Father George Muttathara, house superior at Salesian Bengaluru Province, confirmed over the phone to Firstpost on Tuesday night at around 9.30 pm IST that Uzhunnalil has reached Rome.
Some six months ago also, serious talks were held by interested parties and Indian mission officials in finding Uzhunnalil ’s location in Yemen. Oman and Yemen share a border and in the past too several abducted and stranded foreign nationals were ‘rescued’ and brought to Oman. Oman is the only country in the Gulf which has not joined the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen to flush out Houthi rebels in the country.
Uzhunnalil was kidnapped on 4 March, 2016, after suspected Islamic terrorists attacked a home for the elderly run by Missionaries of Charity nuns in Yemen city of Aden.
Sixteen people, including four nuns, were shot dead and the priest, who was serving as the house chaplain was kidnapped.
In August, Swaraj had told a delegation from his Salesian religious order that Uzhunnalil was alive and could be released soon. The minister also reportedly had told the group that securing his freedom is among the highest priorities of the Indian government.
In a letter dated 28 March, 2016 addressed to the Minister of External Affairs, the Indian bishops too had appealed to the government to trace and rescue Uzhunnalil.
Messages were sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh, and Swaraj “soliciting their urgent intervention to ensure the safety of Uzhunnalil”.
“Since his kidnapping, Salesians in Bengaluru have made continued efforts for his safety and release. Both the Indian government and the Salesians have played a vital role in his release,” Thomas, Uzhunnalil’s cousin said.
But the mystery over the external affairs minister’s tweets and a possible lack of coordination in this specific case ring loud and clear.