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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Police Raid Fails to Free Hostages

GROZNY -- One commando was killed and five were wounded in a shootout during a failed attempt to free hostages in Chechnya, the head of the separatist Russian region's anti-terrorism center said Monday.

Khonkarpasha Israpilov did not say whom his forces had tried to free during the operation late Sunday, but Russian news agencies said they were British hostages Camilla Carr and Jon James, seized by unidentified gunmen last July.

Israpilov said his commandos came under fire from machine guns and assault rifles on their way to the town of Urus Martan some 15 kilometers southwest of the Chechen capital, Grozny, where the hostages were believed to be held.

"To prevent further losses we had to retreat," Israpilov said.

He said one of his unit was killed and five were seriously injured after the security unit's convoy was suddenly targeted by automatic weapons fire as it headed for the site where the hostages were believed held.

He said that one of the kidnap gang was killed, three others injured and several detained during the operation.

Israpilov said one of the arrested gang members was carrying identity documents that identified him as a member of an Islamic regiment under the control of the Chechen Defense Ministry.

Interfax cited a well-informed source as saying that the kidnappers threatened to kill the hostages if the raid was not called off, whereupon they were allowed to get away.

Interfax and RIA news agencies quoted Chechen officials as saying Israpilov's forces had been trying to release Carr and James.

In Moscow, the British Embassy said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe team in the Chechen capital had confirmed the failed attempt to release the hostages.

An embassy spokeswoman stressed that London wants Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who discussed the hostage problem with British Foreign Office officials during a six-day trip to Britain last week, to help release the British couple.

"The [British] government looks to Maskhadov as the president of Chechnya to ensure their swift and safe release," embassy spokeswoman Patricia O'Donnell said.

Maskhadov has said he will do all he can to free Carr and James and vowed to stamp out hostage-taking in Chechnya. He has put up a $100,000 reward for information leading to the release of the aid workers.

On his return to Grozny, Maskhadov said Sunday that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had agreed to visit Chechnya when he met her in London during an unofficial visit last week.

Thatcher's office, however, denied the claim Monday.

"I don't think it's correct. She has no plans to visit Grozny," said Thatcher's spokesman, Mark Worthington. "That was not something that was directly discussed. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding in translation."

Maskhadov was quoted by Interfax as saying Thatcher had agreed to lead a group of experts in an assessment of the forced unification of Chechnya with Russia during the 19th century Caucasus war and agreements signed between the two.

Moscow and Chechnya fought a bloody conflict over the region's independence from December 1994 to August 1996, when they signed a peace accord.

Relations remain difficult. Moscow says Chechnya is still part of Russia. Maskhadov, a former guerrilla commander, insists Chechnya is independent, although the region's self-proclaimed independence has not been recognized abroad.

//blob//Chechnya's government has offered the defense minister's post to renegade warlord Salman Raduyev, a move that could further strain relations between Russia and the breakaway Moslem republic, Interfax reported Monday.

If true, the offer would be a striking departure from Chechen government's recent attempts to distance itself from the erratic and controversial warlord.