Children and Muslims released:
- Up to 30 gunmen seized a Moscow theater staging a musical late Wednesday, firing shots in the air and holding a number of people hostage, police and news agencies said.
Interfax news agency, one of whose reporters was in the theater at the time, said the gunmen had let members of the audience make phone calls and allowed children to be released.
Muslim members of the audience attending the production of “North-East” were also allowed to leave, Interfax said. Police said they had as yet received no demands from the gunmen. Reports put the number of gunmen in the theater between 20 and 30.
Elite police teams rushed to the scene but there were no initial reports of casualties. Police said they believed up to 700 people were attending the show but exact numbers remained unclear.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had been informed of the incident, which happened on the eve of his official visit to Europe.
An update from Reuters:
- Up to 30 armed men and women, apparently Chechens and wearing masks, seized hundreds of people in a Moscow theater late on Wednesday and threatened to blow it up if police stormed the building, witnesses and police said.
Officials refused to say who was behind the attack, but witness accounts pointed to an attack by Chechen separatist guerrillas.
If the armed gang proves to be Chechen, the Moscow hostage-taking incident would be the most audacious such attack since the first Chechen war of 1994 to 1996.
A teenager released by the gang told Russian television that the armed gang wanted “the war to be stopped,” an apparent reference to the long-running secessionist war in Russia’s turbulent Chechnya province.
The teenager, among youngsters immediately released by the hostage-takers, said the group of 20-30 attackers had burst into the theater, which was showing the musical “North-East,” one firing a burst of bullets into the ceiling.
“He told all the actors to sit down on the front rows. Then women and men came in with masks.
“Some women were strapped with explosives and they said they would blow up the whole building in 10 minutes if they (police) started to storm the building,” Denis Afanasyev, a teenager told Russian television.
Another student called Alexei, also released, said the Chechens who burst in shouted out: “Release Chechnya and Russia from Russians. Stop the war in Chechnya.”
- A spokesman for the group told the BBC said they were Chechens and were demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from the breakaway province, where a conflict has been dragging on since President Putin sent troops back there in 1999.
The group stormed the stage in the middle of the performance. Witnesses at the scene said the attackers were mining the building and threatening to blow it up if security forces tried to intervene.
Gunshots have been heard but it is not clear if they came from inside or outside.
A man claiming to be the leader of the group – a nephew of Chechen warlord Arbi Barayev – said he and his followers were suicide attackers who had come to Moscow “not to survive, but to die”.
Russian special forces have taken up positions around the building which is at a factory site in the south of the city. It is not clear if they have established any communications with the hostage-takers.
About 150 people, mainly women and children have been released. An eyewitness told the BBC Georgians were also being allowed to leave.
The group’s leader told the Chechen rebel news agency Kavkaz-Tsentr that he and his “mujahideen” followers had mines strapped to their bodies and were mining the building.
He said they were accompanied by 40 widows of Chechen fighters.
He was named as Movsar Barayev, a nephew of the late Chechen warlord Arbi Barayev.
‘Blood in the aisles’
The theatre, in a factory cultural centre on Melnikov Street, was holding a performance of a popular Russian musical, North-East.
“It was the beginning of the second act,” a woman who managed to escape from the theatre told Russian media.
….The audience and those people released said the attackers, who consisted of men wearing combat uniforms and women in veils, had explosives strapped to their bodies.
Up to five actors who managed to escape from the building told reporters the entire building had been booby-trapped
….Our correspondent in Moscow says the Chechen rebels have been threatening to strike in Moscow, so this was probably a well-planned operation.
I assume by now you notice the missing word from all of these reports: “terrorists.”
Per reader John Tobin, Pravda doesn’t hesitate to characterize the situation as involving terrorists:
- A group of between 20 and 30 kamikaze Chechen terrorists stormed a packed Moscow theatre tonight, threatening to blow the building up unless their demands are met. It is feared that due to the fact that their demands are unrealistic, they will prefer to become martyrs, rather than prisoners.
At 22.57 MSK, the group of 20/30 terrorists entered the Palace of Culture theatre in Melnikov Street, South-East Moscow, which was showing the first Russian-produced musical, Nord-Ost, and started placing explosives around the perimeter of the building, according to eye-witnesses inside the theatre who were using their cellular phones. The terrorists then told the children and Moslems in the audience that they were free to go (these numbering around 150 people) and demanded an end to the war in Chechnya. They claim that if the police storm the building, they will detonate the explosives and for every one of their number killed, they will execute ten hostages.
Movladi Udugov, ideological leader of the Chechen terrorists, has claimed responsibility for this attack in an interview broadcast on Radio Echo.
The stalls hold around 700 people and the director of the theatre has stated that the total number in the audience is probably around 1,000, which would indicate around 850 still held by the terrorists, believed to be the kamikaze 29th Division led by the Chechen warlord, Arbi Baraev. Outside the theatre, teams of special forces have cordoned off the area.
In 1996, Russian forces abandoned Chechnya after a disastrous war which had lasted two years. They re-entered the republic in 1999 after Chechen terrorists invaded bordering territories and set off a series of attacks in Russia which killed at least 300 people.
THURSDAY – THE LATEST FROM PRAVDA
The latest information as of 12:45 p.m. Moscow time
Defense technology could be seen in the streets of Moscow. This is the first time people can see military vehicles in Moscow in years. Armored vehicles appeared in the streets of the Russian capital right after operation “Groza” (“Thunder”) was announced. This operation takes place in case of hostage-taking. A “hostage,” as police see it, is a human being, whose hostage-takers talk to the authorities about his or her release (not to any relatives). Operation Gorza started, when the military personnel arrived at the site of the terrorist act. Traffic was blocked on the neighboring streets. Specially trained negotiators arrived to establish a contact with the terrorists. The road police examines all cars that come into Moscow and leave it. The people of Southern looks are stopped in the streets of Moscow. Everybody is looking forward to an end, and on one is willing to negotiate yet. Moscow residents treat all those measures with understanding. They realize that those measures are vital for the time being. It has just been reported that Moscow state buildings have been provided with more security. Special military units were deployed on strategic objects of the Russian capital. The production of petroleum products has been temporarily suspended at the Moscow refinery in the town of Kopotnya.
The law-enforcement bodies ordered to take the people away from the building of the music theatre at the distance of some 500 meters. The defense technology has been removed from all approaches to the theatre. Neighboring areas are being carefully patrolled. Moscow hospitals are being on constant alert.
The Federal Security Bureau (FSB) was charged with the operation to release the hostages. The special services need to analyze the situation on the whole. There is always an opportunity of another act of terrorism to happen. It might take place in another city. It has to be mentioned here that it is the first time, when the Moscow police and FSB have to conduct an operation of such scale. The people have been taken captives in the center of Moscow. Their number set a record.
The latest information as of 1:08 p.m. Moscow time
Chechen refugees in the city of Baku (the capital of the Azerbaijan republic) organized an action to support the act of terrorism in Moscow. The refugees demand the Russian troops should be withdrawn from the territory of the Chechnya republic. Nothing has been reported yet about the reaction of the Azerbaijan government.
The latest information as of 1:14 p.m. Moscow time
The gunmen agreed to let a group of REN TV journalists and Russian singer Joseph Kobzon in the building of the music theatre. It was allowed to bring in some medicines, but the gunmen would examine all the people. The journalists will have to have their IDs with them and no weapons at all. REN TV reported that the journalists would be allowed to go to the second story of the building.
The latest information as of 1:16 p.m. Moscow time
Russian deputy Boris Nemtsov is now inside the building. He is ready to start negotiations with the terrorists.
The latest information as of 1:30 p.m. Moscow time
The Russian State Duma believes that the first priority of the whole situation with the hostages is the preservation of their lives and health. This is mentioned in the special decree, which was approved by the Duma in connection with the state of emergency in Moscow. RIA Novosti reported that 421 deputies voted for the decree, no one was against it. One deputy abstained from the voting. The deputies stressed out that all the efforts of the authorities, society and mass media have to be aimed at keeping every hostage alive and healthy. The State Duma announced on its decisive support for consolidated efforts to overcome the critical situation with the hostages. It was also stressed in the document that federal negotiators, law-enforcement bodies will be taking professional and responsible actions. The deputies of the Russian parliament addressed to political parties, to public organizations, urging everyone to realize the seriousness of the challenge to the Russian society. The deputies urged everyone to stand up against it, despite all political differences. “The unity of all forces is vital as never before under the current extreme conditions,” – runs the document.
The State Duma also addressed to those, who seized the hostages. Russian deputies urged them to show their discretion and release the innocent people, women and children, first and foremost. “No requirements can be achieved owing to illegal actions against Russian civilians and foreigners,” stressed the document. The deputies say that the dramatic events in Moscow must not either raise panic in the Russian society or provoke ethnic or religious hostility. This might lead to serious negative consequences in the field of international relations.
The latest information as of 1:34 p.m. Moscow time
Terrorists want Boris Nemtsov (the leader of the Union of Right Forces political movement) to be present at negotiations. Earlier, the terrorists asked for the presence of other politicians – Irina Khakamada and Grigory Yavlinksy. Yavlinsky is currently in the city of Tomsk, so the terrorists preferred to talk to Boris Nemtsov. RTR Russian Television network reported that the gunmen started showing aggression. They promised that they would shoot ten people every hour, if no one was going to meet their requirements. None of the hostages suffered yet, according to Interfax news agency.
Regarding use of the word “terrorist,” note this post from Tres Producers from 5/9/02:
- Those Who Commit Terrorist Acts Are, By Definition, Terrorists
Reuters, which refuses to call even Osama bin Laden a “terrorist” (their quotes, not mine), is at it again. In their report on the horrific bomb blast today at a Victory Day parade in the Russian republic of Dagestan that killed at least 32 people, including 12 children, they give us these remarkable paragraphs [Reuters link no longer available]:
- President Vladimir Putin vowed to hunt down and punish the attackers, whom he described as “scum” who should be treated like Nazis.
He blamed the attack on “terrorists,” the usual Kremlin term to describe separatist rebels in Chechnya, which neighbors the impoverished province of Dagestan where the attack took place.
The report ends with this gem:
- Bomb blasts have rocked Russian regions, mostly those close to Chechnya, since Moscow sent troops back into the secessionist province to bring it back to its fold. The authorities routinely blame the blasts on separatist guerrillas.
This sophistic refusal to call terrorists “terrorists” says nothing about “fairness” or “impartiality” and everything about a Chomsky-like perversion of language. You aren’t taking sides on the merits of a matter to call a terrorist a terrorist. You can be even sympathetic to the cause in question and still call a terrorist act “terrorism.” A remote-control nail bomb attack timed to kill as many children as possible at a public parade IS THE VERY ESSENCE OF TERRORISM. If the word “terrorism” has any meaning at all, it has to applied here. By dismissing and even mocking Putin’s use of the word under these circumstances, Reuters has let it be known where their sympathies lie: with the Chechan TERRORISTS. You can’t get much farther from neutrality than that.
12:22 est Thursday
At what point do “rebels,” “gunmen” and “guerrillas” become “terrorists”? How about when they kill a civilian for political purposes:
- Chechen gunmen holding hundreds of hostages in a Moscow theater shot and killed one captive and said they were ready to die for their cause, warning Thursday that thousands more of their comrades were “keen on dying.”
A blanket-shrouded body, identified only as a woman, was wheeled out of the theater Thursday afternoon, apparently killed in the early hours of the hostage drama. Sergei Ignachenko, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service, said the woman appeared to be in her 20s and had been shot in the chest and her fingers broken.
The rebels, both men and women, stormed the theater at 9:05 p.m. Wednesday as an audience of about 700 people watched a popular musical.
In a broadcast monitored in Cairo, Egypt, the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite TV channel broadcast a videotaped statement by one of the estimated 40 hostage-takers from inside the theater.
“I swear by God we are more keen on dying than you are keen on living,” a black-clad male hostage-taker said in the broadcast. “Each one of us is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of God and the independence of Chechnya.”
“Even if we are killed, thousands of brothers and sisters will come after us, ready to sacrifice themselves,” declared a female hostage-taker, covered in a black robe except for her eyes.
AP, Reuters, BBC, NY Times still don’t think they’re terrorists.
- Chechen gunmen holding hundreds of hostages in a Moscow theater fired grenades at two women who escaped from their captors on Thursday, wounding one of them, Itar-Tass news agency said.
The agency, quoting security sources at the scene, said the injured woman was receiving medical attention. The second woman appeared unhurt.
The incident appeared to explain three loud explosions which reporters heard coming from the theater earlier.
Logically, wouldn’t they now be “grenademen”?
Interestingly, political leaders throughout the world are calling the act terrorism [from Reuters!]:
- Governments around the world on Thursday denounced the Chechen rebels who seized some 700 Moscow theatergoers, saying civilians were again victims of extremists and the world community must unite to fight such acts of terror.
“We denounce this terrorist act and its brutal nature,” said Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz, acting president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
….The former Soviet republic of Georgia, bordering Chechnya, quickly condemned the hostage seizure. Russia accuses Georgia of failing to root out Chechen rebels hiding in its territory.
“Everybody in Georgia is extremely concerned about the act of terror perpetrated in Moscow. No reasonable human being could react differently,” Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili said.
….German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder wrote that “once again, hundreds of innocent civilians are the target of terror,” adding “one must not accept threats to our society from terrorism.”
Leaders said the siege underscored that the world community must pursue a war on terrorism declared by the United States after hijackers killed more than 3,000 people in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.
“Acts like these cannot but reinforce even more the international community’s determination to fight every kind of terrorism in the firmest possible way,” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said in a statement.
Arafat said the “Palestinian leadership strongly condemns this terrorist act…and it stands beside the friendly Russian people and leadership in confronting this sinful aggression.”
Arafat then returned to planning the next wave of suicide bombings against Israel. Okay, I made that up, but it could still be true.
The BBC’s Stephen Mulvey views the situation from Putin’s point of view:
- Russian President Vladimir Putin was elected president as the man Russians thought could sort out Chechnya once and for all.
The horror of the Moscow hostage-taking therefore puts him in a difficult situation. Even with his sky-high approval ratings, it’s a crisis that it would be dangerous for him to be seen to mishandle.
However, the fact that the conflict – which long ago ceased to be a daily concern of ordinary Russians – has now come to Moscow, could also work for him rather than against him.
For some it will confirm the view that a hard line was, and is, justified. This was the effect of a series of apartment block bombings before troops were sent back to Chechnya in 1999.
….How did a group of Chechen fighters travel to Moscow, and move, heavily armed through the city, without getting found out, or stopped? There is no easy way for Mr Putin, who was a security chief before he became a politician, to answer this.
….In one way, the incident will help Mr Putin, as it appears to support his view of the Chechen rebels as terrorists.
Russian citizens needed no confirmation of this, and some foreign governments had already come to the view that there were links between some of the Chechen rebels and al-Qaeda.
….For the Chechen rebels themselves – at least the more moderate elements, including the elected Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov – the incident is a public relations disaster.
For a long time, Western governments continued to urge Moscow to open negotiations with Mr Maskhadov, though less forcefully after 11 September 2001.
Already the US has ceased to recommend him as a suitable negotiating partner, and other countries are now increasingly likely to take the same view.
….Mr Maskhadov has long been weakened by the fact that the main financial backing for the rebel cause comes from the Muslim world supporting a jihad, or holy war.
Yes, you read right, in the BBC the words “Chechen” “terrorists” and “jihad” all appeared in the same story if not the same sentence.
This backgrounder from Deutsche Welle makes the Chechen/terrorism/militant Islam connection explicit:
- The situation calmed somewhat after a kidnapping in January 1996 prompted the Yeltsin regime to make moves toward allowing the creation of a separate state. That never materialized, however, and Putin has made anti-separatism a main cause.
“When Putin came to power in 1999, his main message to the population was, ‘there is a wounded place on the territory of the former Soviet Union and I will heal this wounded place. I will stop the separatists once and forever'”, Gasan Gusejnov [an expert on ethnic conflicts in the former Soviet Union who has taught about Chechen history and politics at the Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf] said.
While this message was hugely popular among Russians, it was a tougher sell in the outside world. Until the attacks on September 11, 2001.
“Immediately after September 11, Putin decided he could get support for this position because it looks very similar (to terrorism) and it is very similar,” said Gusejnov. “And no doubt there are contacts between Chechens and Arab groups or the Taliban or al Qaeda because it is a shadow world. And it is a world with huge amounts of weapons.”
Andrew Jack of the Financial Times also makes the connection explicit:
- The siege in a Moscow theatre took a further dramatic turn on Thursday when the Arab Al Jazeera television network broadcast video tapes of people it claimed were involved in the hostage-taking drama in the Russian capital.
The broadcast showed them in front of banners in Arabic referring to Moscow and saying “God is great” as they proclaimed their willingness to die.
The Al Jazeera station has frequently been used by the al-Qaeda network to make statements about its activities.
Thursday’s broadcast appeared to support a claim on Thursday by Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Chechens behind the theatre siege were linked to international terrorism.
For further updates, please go here.