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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Released Charity Worker Flies Home, Tells of 'Bandit' Captors

LONDON -- A British aid worker held hostage in Chechnya for nearly a month, flew home Saturday and said he had been held by bandits looking for ransom.

Michael Penrose, 23, and Frenchman Frederic Malardeau, 35, were seized July 27 by six gunmen who bundled them into a car while they were working for the aid group Action Against Hunger in the Chechen capital Grozny.

The charity said no money had been paid to secure the hostages' freedom Wednesday.

Penrose, speaking to reporters at Heathrow airport on arrival from Moscow on Saturday night, said he and Malardeau were released when the captors' nerve failed as the fighting came too close.

Asked exactly who had taken him captive he said, "They told us they were holding us for money. They were bandits.''

He said he was held in Grozny or within two or three kilometers of it before he was released and handed over to the Red Cross.

Penrose was held hostage during some of the fiercest fighting in the conflict between Russian troops and Chechen rebels fighting for independence.

"Just before our release, the area was bombed very hard by MiGs,'' he said. "In 20 minutes, we were told, they dropped five tons of explosives.

"For the first time, I saw our captors getting worried, and if they were getting worried, we were very worried,'' he said.

Penrose and Malardeau were seized 300 meters from the house they were living in, he said. As their vehicle turned a corner, a white van suddenly came to a halt next to it.

"The doors of the van opened and six men in balaclavas carrying Kalashnikovs and grenades came out. They pulled us into the back of the van and drove us for about 20 minutes through Grozny and handed us over to some other people,'' Penrose said.

"The worst period of physical manhandling was during that time when we were beaten with Kalashnikovs and at one point I had a Kalashnikov held to the back of my throat -- cocked.''

Sometimes they were given bread and tomatoes and although they were never tied up or chained, they were always kept under armed guard.