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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Missionary Freed From Chechnya

A U.S. missionary and teacher was freed Tuesday from seven months of captivity and torture in Chechnya, during which his kidnappers cut off part of his right index finger, officials said.

Herbert Gregg was rescued by a joint force of Ingush and federal law enforcers, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo told reporters in Moscow.

Gregg, 51, looked pale, disheveled and exhausted as he arrived accompanied by a team of burly police commandos at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport Tuesday night. He was met by U.S. Ambassador James Collins, Rushailo and a crowd of journalists.

Gregg could not restrain himself from breaking into Rushailo's introductory statement at the impromptu airport news conference to say how "very happy" he was.

He was reluctant to answer questions about the abuse he suffered, saying only that he was "treated differently" and that "there were easy times and more difficult times." He said his only message to his captors was that "God loves you."

It remains unclear what ransom his kidnappers demanded, but Interior Ministry officials said none was paid. Officials said Gregg's captors tortured him periodically and made videotapes in an attempt to force ransom payment.

On one tape, Gregg, his hand bandaged, was shown appealing to his mission sponsors. "Without the money a finger will go each time," he said.

Freed along with Gregg was Sergei Medvedev, a retired Moscow Dynamo soccer player who was kidnapped last September on a business trip to Ingushetia.

Gregg said he was to fly to the United States on Wednesday to join his wife, Linda, in their home state of Arizona, where she has been living with their son and daughter.

Collins and Rushailo, Russia's top police official, said that U.S. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore had pressed Russian authorities to try to free Gregg ever since he was kidnapped.

Gregg, a 30-year veteran of missionary work, arrived in Russia in May 1995 together with his wife to teach English at the pedagogical university in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, under the auspices of the Illinois-based Evangelical Alliance Mission.

He was kidnapped Nov. 11, 1998, by four men who approached him as he was leaving a local orphanage where he had been teaching children to play basketball.

The kidnappers introduced themselves as local Interior Ministry officials and invited Gregg to get into their car, a white Zhiguli with no license plates.

When Gregg refused, they pushed him into the vehicle and sped off to Chechnya.

Russian law enforcers have managed to free dozens of hostages since the Kremlin's abortive military campaign in Chechnya ended in 1996.

However, hundreds more remain in captivity, held by criminal bands who make a living by kidnapping people from neighboring Russian provinces for ransom.