New Delhi/Chennai, Feb 22: India secured the freedom of aid worker Father Alexis Premkumar Antonysamy, eight months after he was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday expressed happiness at the release and spoke to Father Alexis.
Alexis, who arrived in New Delhi from Afghanistan, thanked the government.
"I want to thank the almighty. Also this is because of our Prime Minister Modi that I am here," he told reporters.
His family in Chennai - which had been praying for his safe return - also expressed happiness at his release.
"We are extremely happy to hear the news. We thank the government of India and the government of Tamil Nadu for taking efforts in securing his release," Albert Manoharan, brother of Alexis, told media over the phone.
He said Modi spoke to his father and sister on Sunday and said Alexis will be back in Delhi on Sunday evening.
"It is a great Sunday surprise gift for us," John Joseph, another brother, told IANS.
He was all praise for Modi and the central government.
"It is a government that works even on Sundays. We thank the central government, and Prime Minister Modi for the great job," Joseph said.
The external affairs ministry said 47-year-old Alexis, who was kidnapped on June 2, 2014 from Herat province in western Afghanistan by terrorist elements, announced his release.
At the time of his abduction, Alexis was working with the Jesuit Refugee Service, an international NGO, doing work in the educational field in Afghanistan.
The matter of his release was pursued by India, "including at the highest levels by the prime minister", the ministry spokesperson said in a statement.
"We express our deep gratitude to all those who worked tirelessly over the last eight months to help in this humanitarian task of ensuring the safe release of one of our citizens."
"Father Alexis Premkumar is now back in the safety of his homeland and arrangements are being made for him to rejoin his family soon," he said.
Modi tweeted: "Delighted at securing the release of Indian Jesuit priest Father Alexis Prem Kumar from captivity in Afghanistan. Have spoken to Father Alexis Prem Kumar. Informed happy family of Father Alexis Prem Kumar of his safe return after 8 months in captivity."
In June 2014, after the kidnapping, then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa had written to Modi seeking his intervention in securing the release of Alexis, who hails from the state.
Modi had assured that the "government will spare no effort" to ensure the early release of the priest.
Alexis was Afghanistan director of the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), an educational charity, and was living in the war-torn country for over three years.
He was kidnapped from Zendjan district while he was visiting a project site.
He was visiting a school for Afghan refugee children and had just returned from a trip to Iran and Pakistan.
Before moving to Afghanistan four years ago, Alexis had worked for the JRS, serving Sri Lankan refugees living in Tamil Nadu.
His abduction took place 10 days after an attack on the Indian consulate in Herat by four heavily armed gunmen carrying rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.
JRS has been working in Afghanistan since 2005 accompanying returnees home from exile in Iran and Pakistan and providing education and healthcare services in Bamiyan, Kabul and Herat. In 2013, more than 6,000 vulnerable people from disadvantaged communities benefitted from these services.