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Yemen: Gunmen kill 16 people at a Christian care home

08 March 2016

Gunmen kill 16 people at a Christian care home

Four nuns from the late Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity were among 16 victims killed by gunmen at a home for the elderly in Yemen's southern port city of Aden.

The missionary nurses were serving breakfast to the home's 80 residents on 4 March when six armed assailants stormed the facility, located in Aden's Sheikh Othman district.

As well as the nuns, the gunmen killed four guards and other employees, including several nurses, cleaning staff and a Yemeni cook. All had been handcuffed and then shot in the head. None of the residents of the nursing home were harmed.

The intruders reportedly gained entrance to the care home by telling the security guard one of them had come to visit his mother. While two militants stood guard outside, the other four went inside and started cold-bloodedly executing their victims.

Kidnap victim

The slain nuns were identified by Asia News as Sr. Anselm from India, Sr. Marguerite and Sr. Reginette, both from Rwanda; and Sr. Judit from Kenya. At least five of the victims were Ethiopians.

During the attack a fifth nun, Sr. Sali, managed to hide undetected in a storeroom refrigerator. However, Fr. Thomas Uzhummanil, 57 - an Indian priest living at the facility - is missing, believed kidnapped by the gunmen. He had lived in Yemen for the past five years. Ironically, he moved to the care home for protection, after the church where he was serving - Aden's Holy Family Church - was attacked and torched last September.

Danger for Christians

Initial media reports after the attack had blamed Ansar al-Sharia for the killings. But the Islamist group linked with Al-Qaeda promptly denied responsibility: "This is not our operation, and it is not our way of fight," they told Arabic media sources.

Yemeni security officials blamed the attack on militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State and accused them of taking away Fr. Uzhummanil during the raid.

Yemen is #11 on the World Watch List. Islam is the state religion and indigenous Yemeni believers must keep their faith a complete secret - if discovered they face banishment or honour killing from their tribe, or the death penalty from the state. Several Muslim-background believers have had to go into hiding or leave the country.

But since civil war struck the country in 2014, Islamic extremists such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State have exploited the chaos and lawlessness, making it more dangerous than ever for Christians in the country.

Senseless and diabolical violence

According to the United Nations, more than 6,000 people have been killed and 2.4 million people displaced in the fighting between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the north and the Saudi-backed government in the south.

"We knew that the situation was difficult and that the sisters were running a certain risk," Bishop Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of the Arabian peninsula, said after the attack.

"The Missionaries of Charity died as martyrs," he told Catholic News Agency. "For me there is no doubt that the sisters have been victims of hatred - hatred against our faith." He said he believes they were targeted because certain radical groups in Yemen 'simply do not support the presence of Christians who serve the poorest of the poor'.

But the bishop stressed that this violent Islamist attitude "obviously goes against the mainstream thought of the Yemeni people, the majority of whom appreciate the presence of the Missionaries of Charity as well as their dedicated service to the poor."

Pope Francis described the Aden massacre as "an act of senseless and diabolical violence."

Labeling the four nuns 'the martyrs of today', he called them victims not just of their attackers, but also 'of indifference, of this globalization of indifference that does not care'.

Meanwhile, the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj promised her government will 'spare no efforts' to rescue the missing priest. "Yemen is a conflict zone. We do not have an embassy there. But we will spare no efforts to rescue Father Tom Uzhunnalil," she said. She also confirmed that Sr. Sari had been moved to a safe location and was 'being evacuated' from Yemen.

Four of Mother Teresa's convents were set up in Yemen after the invitation of the then northern government in 1973. The Catholic sisters still serving in these convents in Hodeidah, Taiz, Sanaa and Aden care for mentally and physically challenged children and elderly people.

Source: World Watch Monitor

Please pray:

  • For protection for expatriate Christians in Yemen
  • For courage for secret believers in Yemen as they risk everything to follow Jesus
  • For aid for the people of Yemen as they are caught up in this terrible conflict

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Find out more about persecution in Yemen.