Security forces in Afghanistan have arrested a total of three men in connection with the kidnapping of a Jesuit priest from India. The arrests, announced by an Afghan government official, include a man taken into custody on June 4 while two others were detained on June 5 in connection with the disappearance of Father Alexis Prem Kumar. The priest was abducted on June 2 as he was leaving a school serving children who were recently returned to Afghanistan after living as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, reported the Afghan news agency Khaama Press.
The Associated Press reported that the government official said all three men were Taliban members.
The Rome headquarters of the Jesuit Refugee Service confirmed that Father Prem Kumar, its Afghanistan country director, "was abducted by a group of unidentified men" as he was leaving a JRS-supported school for returnee refugees in Sohadat village, about 15 miles from the city of Herat in western Afghanistan.
"We are deeply shocked by Prem's abduction. We are in contact with all the relevant authorities and doing everything possible to ensure his safe and speedy return," said Jesuit Father Peter Balleis, international director of JRS.
Church officials in India expressed concern for the safety of Father Prem Kumar, 47, who has worked in Afghanistan since 2011.
"We are worried and concerned about the kidnap of Father Alexis," Father Edward Muduvassery, Jesuit provincial for South Asia, told Catholic News Service June 3 from his office in New Delhi.
Father Joseph Chinnayan, deputy secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, appealed to the Indian government to quickly seek the Jesuit's release. Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman for the India's External Affairs Ministry, said via a Twitter post that Indian officials in Herat were pursuing the matter with local authorities, Asian church news portal ucanews.com reported.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction, Father Muduvassery said. "We are keeping our fingers crossed and very much concerned about the wellbeing of Father (Prem Kumar)," he said.
Before moving to Afghanistan, Father Prem Kumar worked for JRS for 12 years, serving Sri Lankan refugees living in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, his home. He was director of JRS in India from June 2005 to May 2011 and then moved to Afghanistan. JRS works in Kabul, Herat, Bamiyan and Day Kundi, supporting government programs in education.
"The kidnapping follows the thwarted attack [May 23] on the Indian consulate in Herat by four armed gunmen who were killed by security guards," the JRS press statement said.
When asked whether the kidnapping is linked to recent attacks on Indian targets by Taliban forces, Father Muduvassery said, "We cannot speculate on anything."
"We have no clue so far regarding the kidnappers as there has been no ransom or other calls," he added.
The JRS statement said no additional comment would be made until the case is resolved.
Jesuit Father Giuseppe Moretti, superior of the Jesuit mission in Afghanistan, told the Vatican's Fides news agency on June 3 that "the kidnapping of foreigners happens frequently throughout the country. We know only that he was taken by armed men; it could have been a Taliban faction or common criminals."