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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ex-Mormon Held for Saratov Abduction

The abduction of two U.S. Mormon missionaries in Saratov was masterminded by a former member of the church who developed "a lust for money," a law enforcement official said Wednesday.

The suspect was arrested Sunday, shortly after the two missionaries, Andrew Lee Propst and Travis Robert Tuttle, were set free in the Volga River city after being held for three days.

The suspect, a 44-year-old college-educated Russian, co-founded the Saratov branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1993, said Yevgeny Redko of the local branch of the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

Redko said the suspect, whose name he did not release, left the church a year ago to start a private business, but kept an eye on the local Mormons. He decided to abduct the missionaries and demand a large ransom for their release, Redko said.

The businessman recruited "several acquaintances" and rented an apartment in Saratov's suburban neighborhood of Solnechny, the FSB spokesman said.

One of his accomplices lured Tuttle and Propst to the apartment last Thursday. Upon entering the apartment, the two 20-year-old men were repeatedly hit with wooden sticks.

The missionaries were then moved out of Saratov to an apartment in the nearby settlement of Dubki-10.

Redko said the abductors took an instant photo of their victims. They wrote a note on the back of the photo demanding a $300,000 ransom and warning that the two missionaries would be killed if police were notified.

The photo was then delivered to the doorstep of another Mormon missionary in Saratov, who notified police. The case was then transferred to the anti-terrorism unit of the FSB, which is a KGB successor.

Under pressure from the FSB, which said it believed it knew from the beginning who was behind the abduction, the kidnappers released Tuttle and Propst on Sunday with no ransom paid.

Within hours, detectives nabbed the suspected mastermind, who Redko said was "one of our prime suspects from the very beginning."

The two missionaries on Wednesday were in Samara, another Volga River city, where their church's regional headquarters are located. "They are safe, and we are very glad," said a U.S. missionary who answered the telephone in Samara. He refused to identify himself.

Tuttle and Propst are expected to leave Samara for Frankfurt, Germany, where they will undergo medical examinations. They suffered minor injuries during the abduction.

The two will then be reassigned to another mission, said Gabriele Sirtl, a spokeswoman for the Mormon church's European headquarters in Frankfurt.

However, they will probably have to return to Saratov to testify at the trial of their suspected abductors, Redko said.

Neither Sirtl nor her colleagues in Russia would comment on the separate detainment of two U.S. Mormons in Samara.

The head of the FSB branch in Samara, Valery Kalupayev, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the two missionaries "were detained, but not arrested" at a local military unit Feb. 17. The pair were seized after they snuck onto the unit's grounds with the aid of an officer to try to proselytize, a FSB branch spokesman, Vitaly Khoroshavin, said.