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Israel Worries Over 9 Abducted Jews

June 5, 2000

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Relief in Israel over the rescue of a 12-year-old boy maimed by Chechen kidnappers was mingled Monday with worry over nine other Jews abducted by Chechen rebels in the past eight years.

The case of young Adi Sharon has focused attention the missing Jews, all of whom were from Russian republics around Chechnya and have relatives in Israel. Some were seized as early as 1992 and have not been heard from in years.

``It has been such a long time that the chances that they are still alive are very slim,″ Israeli Deputy Immigration Minister Marina Solodkin, ``but we have to keep trying to find out what happened to them.″

Adi returned to Israel on Sunday after spending nine months tied up in a cellar. His kidnappers cut off both of his pinky fingers and left him badly malnourished.

Sharon was captured while visiting his father in Russia and held while kidnappers demanded $8 million in ransom. Last week, Russian security forces stormed the hide-out where he was being kept in the town of Penza, about 350 miles southeast of the Russian capital.

The nine missing Jews are only a few of more than 1,000 Russian and foreign civilians who have been seized for ransom by the Chechens since the war with Russia began.

All the victims, Jews and non-Jews, were abducted because the kidnappers thought they had money, but Israeli officials say anti-Jewish feelings may have entered the picture. In a videotape captured by the Russian forces and screened worldwide on Russian television channels, Arbi Barayev, one of the Chechen warlords, said the Chechens hate Israel and the Jews and will continue to kidnap Jews because they have money.

``This is not so much classical anti-Semitism as Islamic fundamentalism,″ Solodkin said.

In some cases, Jewish victims are seized because the kidnappers suspect they have sold their homes and belongings prior to emigrating to Israel and therefore have large sums in cash.

Roman Ashurov, 71, was abducted as he was on his way home from an Israeli mission office where he had been arranging his departure.

Interior Minister Natan Sharansky on Sunday gave visiting Russian counterpart Vladimir Rushailo the names of eight of the missing Jews.

Solodkin said there is a ninth missing Jew, but his relatives in Israel refused to give Israeli officials his name, saying they intend to pay the ransom and don’t want authorities to interfere.

Of the eight on Sharansky’s list, one is known to be alive. Three are believed to have been shot dead by their captors, Solodkin said.

In other cases, authorities get to the victims in time. In addition to Adi’s dramatic rescue last week, four kidnapped Jews have recently been freed and now live with their families in Israel.

Laura Lichtman, 18, was already living in Israel when she was kidnapped during a visit to Russia. Like Adi, she was rescued by Russian special forces.

Vladimir Fail, 14, was released after top officials from the Caucasian Republic of Ingushetia interceded with the Chechens on his behalf. The terms of Fail’s release are secret and reflect the complex relations existing between Chechnya and the other Caucasian republics, Solodkin said.

Another teen-ager, Oleg Imiliantev, is believed to have been released by his captors as Russian troops drew near and was returned to his home in the Israeli city of Ashdod, also having lost two of his fingers.

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Sunday that Russia could have freed Adi Sharon months ago, but Solodkin said the Russian government was doing its best to free all kidnap victims.

``I think it is cooperating with us and has even given the Jewish victims priority,″ she said.

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