Father Kumar had been warned by locals that Taliban wanted him.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has made a solemn assurance to spare no effort to “ensure the safe and earliest possible release” of Jesuit Father Alexis Prem Kumar, who was kidnapped by armed gunmen in Afghanistan.
Father Kumar, heading the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in troubled Afghanistan, was abducted June 2 in Sohadat village after visiting a school that had been set up by JRS for children returning from Iran.
Reports have suggested that Father Kumar ignored warnings that he was at risk, preferring to carry out his work among refugees.
Albert Manoharan, a teacher and younger brother of the kidnapped priest, told Aleteia from his home at Ram Nagar near Devakotai that Father Kumar was “always interested in refugees and downtrodden people.”
“There are no words to describe our feelings. We are extremely worried,” Manoharan said.
While he and his family were “satisfied” with the attention the government has shown in pursuing the case—and Indian consul officials in Herat even calling up the distressed family frequently—Manoharan said, “What we want to hear is the safe release of my brother.”
The case has reached the highest level of the Indian government. Prime Minister Modi said in a June 12 letter to J. Jayalalitha, chief minister of southern Tamil Nadu state: "This is an extremely delicate situation and our primary concern at this stage is to ensure the integrity of the ongoing efforts for Father Prem Kumar’s release and to ensure that he does not come to harm."
Modi’s letter came in response to an appeal by Jayalalitha amid widespread protests and prayers for the safe release of the kidnapped priest.
The priest had spent a dozen years in Tamil Nadu state, working in social action, including service to Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka and impoverished tribal people.
Directing the JRS in India from 2005 to 2011, he took up an assignment in Afghanistan in July 2011 and has been heading JRS operations in Afghanistan from 2012.
Citing assurances from top government officials of Afghanistan, the Indian Prime Minister reiterated that every possible effort was being taken by the Afghan government to ensure the release of the priest.
"Our ambassador in Kabul has been in regular touch with the president’s office and the security agencies," said Modi, who assumed the mantle of Indian government on May 26 after leading the Hindu nationalist BJP party to a landslide victory in the April-May election.
“We have no new information beyond what is given by the government,” Jesuit Father Joy Karayampuram, spokesman for the Jesuit province of South Asia, told Aleteia June 13. He said the province has no information on the identity of the kidnappers and no one has received any calls for ransom.
Quoting provincial security chief Samiullah Qatra, the Khama Press reported on June 4 that Afghan security forces took an unnamed suspect into custody for further investigation.
JRS operates centers in Kabul, Herat, Bamiyan, and Daikundi, supporting government programs in education.
With Afghan security forces engaged in the smooth conduct of the presidential election, scheduled for June 14, Father Karayampuram pointed out that “we are looking forward to the elections to be over.”
Meanwhile, Father Edward Muduvassery, Jesuit provincial for South Asia, told Aleteia that JRS is the only Indian social action group operating in troubled Afghanistan, where some of the more than 3,000 Indians working on reconstruction and other projects have came under bloody attacks. India has been carrying out several development projects in the troubled nation, whic reeling under a Taliban insurgency.
The kidnap took place a week after four heavily armed assailants carried out a daring attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat that was foiled by security forces on May 23. Several similar attacks on Indian targets, including workers, had been reported earlier.
While an assault on the Indian consulate in the eastern city of Jalalabad claimed nine lives in August 2013, a suicide bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul had killed about 50 people in 2008.
Meanwhile, national media quoting foreign ministry sources point out that Father Kumar had been called to the Indian consulate in Heart and briefed by consul general Amit Mishra about a threat to his life.
“On June 1, Kumar was told not to leave the city limits of Herat. He was kidnapped the next day,” said The Hindustan Times, quoting government officials.
Weeks prior to his kidnapping, the report further said, Father Kumar had to postpone a trip to Sohadat village, 15 miles out of Herat, after locals warned him that the Taliban was looking for him.
Asked about the motive behind the kidnapping, the Indian official said, “It could be because of his nationality, his religion and the fact that he was working in the education sector. The Taliban are against education and have often targeted schools.”
“All Indians in Afghanistan are high-risk targets and advisories are issued periodically to them. There was specific information regarding Kumar which he ignored despite being briefed,” the report pointed out.