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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Troops Hunting For Kidnapped U.S. Aid Worker Free Russian

Russian troops said Friday they had freed a Russian hostage during a massive search operation in rebel Chechnya for kidnapped U.S. aid worker Kenny Gluck.

Although the American's whereabouts remained unknown, a military spokesman said raids in the town from where Gluck was seized Tuesday had thrown up fresh clues in the investigation.

Military spokesman Sergei Artyomov said that soldiers had freed Rafik Gafurov on Thursday during a raid in Stary Atagi, a town 19 km south of the Chechen capital Grozny.

The Russian had been held captive since November, Artyomov, head of the military press department for the North Caucasus region which includes Chechnya, said on RTR television.

"We have a lot of information (regarding Gluck) that is very interesting, but in the interests of the investigation we will not make it public," Artyomov added.

Gluck, 38, heads the North Caucasus mission of Nobel prize-winning aid group Medecins sans Frontiers (MSF-Doctors without Borders).

Jonathan Littel, an American working for French aid group Action Contre La Faim (ACF-Action Against Hunger) escaped the kidnappers when his car smashed through the ambush. The abduction was a severe embarrassment to Russian troops who have claimed to be in control of the breakaway republic since the end of the "military phase" of the Chechen campaign last April.

Russia launched a massive military crackdown in the rebel province Oct. 1, 1999, pledging to end the lawlessness which had plagued Chechnya since it won de facto independence in the 1994-96 conflict with Moscow.

MSF spokeswoman Giselle Gaignaire meanwhile brushed off allegations by the Russian Foreign Ministry that Gluck had used forged papers to enter Chechnya.

"We are sticking to our statement that Kenny (Gluck) was legally in Chechnya and that he had proper permission" to be there, Gaignaire said by telephone.

MSF was in touch with the Russian authorities, the United States and other Western embassies, she said, but so far had received no news of his whereabouts or any ransom demand.