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Russians Abduct U.S. Missionaries

Two American missionaries kidnapped in southern Russia may be freed if the local governor carries out his promise to pay a $300,000 ransom, Worldwide Television News reported Saturday night.

However, the London-based network also reported that Gov. Dmitri Akyatskov of Russia's Saratov region warned that if the ransom is paid, his security forces may take steps to kick the Mormon mission out of the region.

Mormon missionaries Andrew Lee Propst, 20, of Lebanon, Ore., and Travis Robert Tuttle, 20, of Gilbert, Ariz., disappeared Wednesday in the town of Saratov, about 450 miles southeast of Moscow.

"Today the situation is as follows," Akyatskov said. "The money that the kidnappers demanded has been found. At this point we can't pinpoint where the kidnappers are. There is extremely contradictory information."

He said Russian security officials were working on the case.

The missionaries, who represent the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were working out of the church's Samara Russian Mission. A ransom note demanding $300,000 was left on the doorstep of a church member after the men were abducted Wednesday.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said he was told by church officials that someone had set up an appointment with the two missionaries, but they never arrived.

The Oregon senator, a Mormon, said President Clinton assured him on Friday that the administration would do all it could to aid the investigation.

Three FBI agents were sent to Russia and a fourth who is fluent in Russian and experienced in hostage negotiations was dispatched on Friday, Smith said.

The fate of the two men remained uncertain late Saturday, as not only church but State Department officials remained silent about the sensitive investigation.

"This is a very grave matter. To avoid jeopardizing the safety of the individuals who were abducted, we are not going to make any further comment," State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck said on Saturday.

WTN reported that Akyatskov believed the kidnappers may be from a religious sect aiming to extort money to strengthen its position in Saratov.

Akyatskov said there are 30 missionaries in Saratov and he was trying to organize protection for them.

"I would advise them to find something else to do and in a different place, including Mormons," he said.

The National Security Council, in a statement Friday night, said the State Department and the embassy in Moscow were "monitoring the situation closely and trying to do everything they can do to assure the safety of the missionaries."

Russian officials have said they believe the motivation for the kidnapping was not religious or political, but rather monetary.

Written by Kristen Moulton.
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