Four nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, including one from India, were among 16 people killed by gunmen who stormed an old people’s home in the Yemeni port city of Aden on Friday, officials and witnesses said.
Father Tony, a priest from Bengaluru who was at the home, was reported missing after the attack, the first of its kind in Yemen.
While two gunmen surrounded the home in Sheikh Osman district, four more moved from room to room, handcuffing victims and shooting them in the head. A nun who survived and was rescued by local residents said she hid inside a fridge in a storeroom after hearing a Yemeni guard shouting “run, run”.
In Kolkata, Missionaries of Charity spokesperson Sunita Kumar said the attackers dressed in blue entered the compound at around 8.30 am local time. She identified the dead nuns as Sister Anselm (57) from Gumla in Jharkhand, Sister M Madrid (44) and Sister Reginette (32) from Rwanda, and Sister M Judith (41) from Kenya.
Father Tony was missing after the attack, she said. The assailants were looking for Sister M Sally, the head of the home, she added.
There are around 80 residents in the retirement home run by the Missionaries of Charity, an organisation established by Mother Teresa. Members of the organisation were also attacked in Yemen in 1998, when gunmen killed three nuns in the port city of Hodeida.
Khaled Haidar told The Associated Press his family was the first to arrive at the home and that he spoke to the surviving nun, who was crying and shaking. He said his family handed her over to southern fighters in charge of security.
Haidar said he counted 16 bodies. All had been shot in the head and were handcuffed. He said in addition to the four nuns, six Ethiopians, a Yemeni cook and Yemeni guards were among the dead.
The Indian government said it was trying to ascertain reports about Indian nuns being gunned down. “We have seen the reports and are trying to ascertain the details,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
The motive of the gunmen, who fled after the attack, was not immediately known.
No group claimed the attack, but one official told AFP the attackers were “extremists” and blamed the Islamic State, which has been gaining ground in Aden in recent months.
The bodies of the dead were transferred to a clinic supported by the Medecins Sans Frontieres. Dozens of stricken family members arrived at the site following the attack, witnesses said.
Aden descended into lawlessness after a Saudi-led coalition recaptured the city from Shia Houthi rebels last summer.
On Monday, a suicide car bombing, also in Sheikh Othman, hit a gathering of loyalist forces killing four people and wounding five others. On February 17, a suicide bombing claimed by the IS killed 14 soldiers.
The IS has claimed responsibility for a wave of deadly attacks in Aden, including a suicide bombing that killed the governor and several assassination attempts on top officials.
Yemen’s embattled government is based in Aden but has struggled to impose its authority since its forces, backed by Gulf Arab troops, expelled the Iran-allied Houthi fighters who still control the capital Sanaa.
Once a cosmopolitan city home to thriving Hindu and Christian communities, Aden has gone from one of the world’s busiest ports as a key hub of the British empire to a largely lawless backwater.
Aden’s small Christian population left long ago. Unknown assailants have vandalised a Christian cemetery, torched a church and last year blew up an abandoned Catholic church.