Catholic priest Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped by Islamic State militants in March in Yemen and feared to have been crucified on Good Friday, is now reportedly safe and is expected to be released.
"It is now clear that the priest is not in the custody of the Islamic State terror group but with anti-government forces in Yemen. Last minute efforts are underway and his release is imminent," a government official told IANS in an update.
The good news follows two months of uncertainty around the Indian priest's fate, with initial reports that Uzhunnalil had been crucified later denied by Roman Catholic officials. His exact whereabouts and his condition in IS captivity remained a mystery, however, but it now appears that he is out of danger and will be able to return back home.
Terrorists stormed a nursing home in Yemen where he worked two months ago, killing 16 people in total, including four nuns. IS has heavily targeted Christians and other religious minorities in its near two year reign of terror across Iraq, Syria, and the surrounding region.
Uzhunnalil's fate prompted top Catholic officials to speak out, including Pope Francis.
"Dear brothers and sisters, in the hope given to us by the Risen Christ, I renew my appeal for the freeing of all kidnapped persons in armed conflict zones," the pontiff told the crowds at the Vatican back in April.
"In particular, I wish to remember Salesian priest Tom Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in Aden, Yemen last March 4," he added.
Bishop Paul Hinder OFM Cap, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, who provided a number of updates on the search for the priest, previously said that he hopes Francis' prayers will move the hearts of the radicals.
"The appeal Pope Francis launched for his release yesterday from St. Peter's square gave us comfort. Now we hope it also reaches the conscience of those who kidnapped him. This is now the important thing," Hinder said of his prayers.
Uzhunnalil can now be reunited with his elderly brother, Mathew, who pleaded for prayers but said that Tom's fate is in the hands of God.
"I am waiting for clear good news. Until then, I will stay at home," Mathew Uzhunnalil told Catholic News Service in a previous interview.
"A lot of people are coming here (to the house) and even hold prayer meetings (for the safety of the priest)," he added.