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No breakthrough in Jesuit abduction case in Afghanistan 

JRS school in Sodat

New Delhi: There has been no breakthrough in the case of an Indian Catholic priest abducted in Afghanistan, says Jesuit’s Provincial of South Asia Father Edward Mudavassery.

Fr Alexis Prem Kumar, a Jesuit priest engaged in humanitarian works in Herat province of Afghanistan, was abducted by unidentified gunmen on Monday afternoon.

“Both Kabul and Herat are actively searching for the missing priest,” Father Mudavassery told Matters India on Tuesday. He said they are expecting some positive news by late Tuesday night.

He said Fr Kumar’s confrere Fr Orville is currently staying at the Indian Consulate.

Father Kumar was abducted in Sohadat, 34 km away from Heart, when he was on a visit to a school for Afghan returnee children managed by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

The 47-year-old priest hails from Tamil Nadu in southern India and is a member of the Madurai Jesuit Province. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1988.

Fr Kumar has more than 20 years of varied experience in social development, capacity building, program management, advocacy, and disaster management, said a statement from Jesuit Father Stan Fernandes, JRS South Asia Regional Director.

It noted that Fr Kumar had earlier worked as the director of PEAK (People’s Education and Action in Kodaikanal), a social action centre in Tamil Nadu, for six years. He then directed the JRS in India from for another six years starting 2005.

He took up an assignment with the JRS in Herat in July 2011 and has been heading services’ operations in Afghanistan from 2012. JRS works in Kabul, Herat, Bamiyan, and Daikundi, supporting government programs in education at all levels.

Fr Kumar was abducted as he was about to leave Sohadat village after visiting the school that had been set up by the JRS for returnee children, primarily from Iran. The abductors surrounded the school campus about 12:45 pm, fired shots in the air, caught hold of Fr Kumar, and drove off with him in a car. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction, the Jesuit statement said.

The Indian Consulate in Herat, the Embassy in Kabul, and the Afghan security forces have been informed. The Afghan National Security and Afghan Police are carrying out intensive search operations.

The statement expressed JRS’ gratitute to the Indian government, the Indian Consul General in Herat and its staff, local authorities and national security officials in Afghanistan for trying their best for Kumar’s quick and safe release.

The statement expressed concern about the abducted priest’s safety. It said the kidnapping follows a thwarted attack last month on the Indian consulate in Herat by four armed gunmen who were killed by security guards.

The JRS is an international NGO serving in 57 countries working for the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced persons. The JRS Regional Office in Delhi coordinates works among refugees, returnees, Internally displaced people, and war-affected communities in South Asia.

The school in Sohadat encourages the education of girls and this could be one of the reasons why the Taliban has taken this step, the statement said.

Sohadat is a dry and treeless village created for returnees from Pakistan and Iran.