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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechnya Scoured for Abducted American

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Officials said Thursday they were scouring Chechnya for a U.S. aid worker kidnapped by gunmen, but the top human rights envoy for the rebel republic was pessimistic about securing his release.

Separatist rebels rejected Russian allegations they were behind Tuesday's kidnap of Kenny Gluck, the head of the North Caucasus mission of the aid group M?decins Sans Fronti?res, or Doctors Without Borders.

Interfax quoted a friend of Gluck's as saying the American suffers from serious asthma and living in damp conditions without proper medication could put his life in danger.

The abduction led MSF and other major aid groups, including the United Nations, to suspend operations in the region.

Interfax quoted Lieutenant General Vladimir Bokovikov saying everything was being done to find Gluck, 38.

"The search includes local residents who could testify on the movements, work and intentions of the American as well as the actions of bandit groups in this region," said Bokovikov, who is the deputy of Viktor Kazantsev, the presidential envoy in the North Caucusus Federal District, which includes Chechnya.

President Vladimir Putin's human rights envoy for Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, told the RIA news agency the chances of freeing Gluck were "minimal" but that he had not given up hope.

However, Kalamanov said the kidnapping was further proof of "the absolutely incomprehensible position of non-governmental organizations on the issue of cooperation in Chechnya."

Russian officials on Wednesday accused the aid workers of entering Chechnya without authorization. MSF and Action Contre La Faim, or Action Against Hunger, have denied the charge.

Gluck was seized Tuesday near the town of Stary Atagi, about 20 kilometers south of Grozny, after gunmen opened fire on a convoy of aid vehicles.

Another car carrying an American working for Action Contre La Faim, Jonathan Littell, 33, smashed its way through the ambush. The group said Littell was unhurt and it has also suspended work in Chechnya. MSF said it was moving its staff to neighboring Ingushetia.

Russia says a wave of kidnappings, including the murders of several foreigners, was one reason Russia launched a new military campaign in Chechnya in 1999, just three years after its forces were forced to leave in defeat.

Itar-Tass quoted sources close to elected Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov as offering a large monetary reward for any information on the kidnappers and the whereabouts of Gluck.

Russian officials have blamed Chechen rebels belonging to a group controlled by a field commander called Akhmadov for the kidnapping and expected a ransom demand soon.

But Movladi Udugov, a Chechen spokesman with links to leading rebel field commanders, denied the allegations.

"Akhmadov has no link to this incident. We have no need to bother with Americans, we have no money problems," he said by telephone, from an undisclosed location.

Additional reporting by Patrick Lannin.