Author Topic: Moscow siege ended  (Read 75 times)

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Moscow siege ended
« on: October 26, 2002, 11:54:27 AM »
MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- The death toll suffered in bringing an end to the three-day Moscow theatre siege has risen to 90 captives and 50 hostage-takers.

More than 750 hostages were rescued, among them all 75 non-Russian hostages and 25 children.

But the death toll is much higher than originally thought -- it had first been said that only 10 captives had died.

Russian special forces, from the Federal Security Service (FSB), used a sedative gas before storming the theatre early Saturday and many captives had been taken to hospital suffering from the after affects of the chemical.

Russian President Vladimir Putin apologised for the captives' deaths in a television address saying "please forgive us."

"The memory of the victims must unite all of us."

He also thanked the security forces and the Russian people for their "bravery."

The Health Ministry, which revealed the new revised death toll figure for the captives, did not say where all the hostages had died nor did it list causes of death.

Fifty Chechen rebel hostage-takers died, including 32 men and 18 women, many of whom had strapped explosives around their waists, Interfax news agency said. Also among the dead was the alleged leader, a man in his mid-20s identified as Movsar Barayev. At least two captors were being questioned.

Russia's Deputy Interior Minister, Vladimir Vasilyev, said the sleeping gas had been used to "allow us to neutralise, among others, those women kamikazes who were literally encased in explosives with their fingers on the detonators."

The Alpha unit stormed the building at 5.30 a.m. local time after the Chechens began executing those being held, Vasilyev added. Two are believed to have been killed.

He said: "Up to the last moment -- even now -- we were afraid there could be a major explosion. This we managed to prevent," he said.

"These people we're dealing with are real scoundrels. They were constantly giving their threats. They were threatening to start executions which they did. They threatened to explode the building."

He attributed the hostage deaths to "stress, hunger and lack of medical supplies that they needed," rather than the gas which was a unique method of dealing with the situation. ('Novel, but deadly')

The foreign nationals were from 14 countries including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Australia, Britain and the United States.

Some of the victims are feared to have choked to death on their own vomit after inhaling the gas, The Associated Press reported.

Many of the freed hostages appeared unconscious or in shock as they were loaded into waiting buses and ambulances.

Pictures taken inside the theatre by Russian television after the raid showed some bodies slumped in theatre seats or with their heads down on their arms as if they had passed out. Bombs lay on seats or were still strapped to some of the women hostage-takers' waists.

The building had reportedly been booby-trapped with mines laid at entrances and exits and a huge bomb was said to have been placed in the centre of the theatre.

Some explosions were heard as special forces deactivated the devices or carried out controlled explosions.

Putin, whose own position was being tested by the crisis, called at one of Moscow's top hospitals to visit survivors.

He vowed to continue against the "enemy" of international terrorism which is "particularly cruel."

A senior envoy to Chechnya's rebel president on Saturday condemned the siege by Chechen rebels.

Akhmed Zakayev, an envoy of elected Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, told Reuters: "We cannot come down to the level of our opponents, targeting innocent people," alluding to alleged human rights abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya.

He added: "We offer our condolences to the families of people that died in these dramatic events."

Putin had refused to give in to the rebel hostage-takers' demands that Russian military forces be removed from the breakaway republic.

Explosions and gunfire heard

As troops moved in, loud explosions and heavy gunfire could be heard.

The rebels had said they were prepared to die for their cause, taking with them as many "sinners" as possible.

A Russian official said the rebels had started shooting their hostages before the raid.

After the two hostages were killed several hostages attempted to escape and came under fire from the rebels.

At this point, the Russian official said, special forces troops opened fire to aid the escaping hostages and the full-scale assault on the theatre followed.

The activity began with a single blast and was followed by a series of explosions of different sizes. Bursts of automatic gun fire went on for a period of about 15 minutes before dying down.

Heavily armed Russian security forces had the complex surrounded since shortly after the siege began Wednesday night.

The audience had arrived at the theatre to see "Nord Ost," a popular production of a classic Russian musical, when the rebels suddenly took over the building during the second act on Wednesday evening.

Russian forces withdrew from Chechnya after a 1994-96 war but they returned in 1999 and have since occupied most Chechen territory.

Moscow blames Chechen militants, who say they are fighting for independence, for a series of bombings in Russia that killed more than 300 people.

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R.I.P. TO THE VICTIMS