Please see here for earlier news.
FRIDAY 9am est
Though this episode is being characterized as a political confrontation, this quote from the al Jazeera broadcast is instructive:
- “We have
chosen this approach…for the freedom of the Chechen people and there is no difference in where we die, and therefore we have decided to die here, in Moscow. And we will take with us the lives of hundreds of sinners.”
Are they sinners for political reasons? No they are sinners because they are not Muslims: the Muslims in the crowd were released when the terrorists took over.
Reuters reports that some children were released today:
- A Chechen separatist “suicide squad” freed eight children on Friday but kept some 700 people hostage in a Moscow theater rigged with explosives.
The children, aged between six and 12, were led to safety by members of the International Committee of the Red Cross and, a Red Cross official said, they were in good health. Seven other hostages had been freed earlier.
….Diplomats waited for the rebels to honor a pledge to free about 75 foreigners among their hostages on Friday, including Australians, Austrians, Britons, Germans and three Americans.
But as officials from various embassies arrived at and left the theater, there was no word as to their fate.
….Earlier FSB official Sergei Ignatchenko said seven Russian hostages were freed, before the eight children were released.
“We hope in the very near future that the terrorists will release more hostages, children, women and people who are in a difficult physical condition,” he said.
….Theater spokeswoman Yelena Malyonkina told Reuters: “There is a big bomb in the center of the hall. The stage is mined as well as all the passage ways. Fifteen guerrillas who are covered with explosives are on duty in the hall. They watch all possible directions from which a storming of the building may start.”
UPDATE – Noon est Friday
Desperate and serious:
- Chechens holding about 600 hostages in a Moscow theater set a dawn Saturday deadline to begin killing the captives if Russia does not agree to pull its army out of Chechnya.
The threat late Friday came shortly after Russia made its first known offer to the rebels, guaranteeing their lives if all the hostages were freed from the theater where they were taken captive Wednesday night during a popular musical.
Daria Morganova, a spokeswoman for the theater, told The Associated Press the threat was reported in a cell phone call from a hostage actor. Specific demands are unknown, but the rebels have repeatedly said Russian troops must leave Chechnya, the mainly Muslim province in the Caucasus where war has raged for most of the last decade.
BACKGROUND from the Russian St. Petersburg Times:
- Cornered in the rugged mountains, Chechen separatists lose hope of winning the war by conventional means and seize hundreds of hostages to force Moscow to suspend its military campaign in Chechnya.
This is what happened in June 1995 when Chechen warlords plotted and executed the hostage-taking raid in the southern city of Budyonnovsk. And this is what Russian authorities should have seen coming.
Like in 1995, Chechen separatists have been cornered for months. Their efforts to force federal troops out of the republic with daily guerilla attacks have fallen flat. Like in 1995, Chechen separatists have repeatedly vowed to take the war to Russian cities outside the breakaway republic. Yet law-enforcement and security agencies failed this week to keep some 50 armed rebels from seizing hundreds of hostages in a Moscow theater.
Foreseeing such terror attacks is a tough challenge for any country. But experts point to a number of problems that make the work of Russian agencies especially difficult – among them, corruption, lack of discipline and a disproportionate focus on investigation rather than prevention.
“It is an evident failure,” Sergei Karaganov, head of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council, said in a phone interview Thursday.
The Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service, or FSB, should have discerned that radical Chechen separatists have been losing ground in Chechnya and their motivation to stage a large-scale terrorist attack in a Russian city has been growing, said Alexander Gurov, a retired police general who heads the State Duma’s security committee.
“The rebels have repeatedly stated that they would take the war to Russian cities. These statements should have been taken seriously,” Gurov said in a telephone interview.
Perhaps the most evident sign of radicialization among Chechen warlords – even those once considered moderate – was a videotape that surfaced in September showing rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. Instead of his customary combat fatigues, Maskhadov appeared wearing the paraphernalia of a militant Islamist, including epaulets with verses from the Koran in Arabic script.
What other colossal intelligence failure does this remind you of? We had explicit threats from bin Laden and al Qaeda. We had explicit warnings as far back as the mid ’90s about airliners used as missiles. We knew the World Trade Center was an almost irresistible target, one that had even been hit by Islamic terrorists before.
Back to the SP Times:
- Since the beginning of the second campaign in Chechnya, both the FSB and the Interior Ministry should have boosted efforts to nip terrorist threats in the bud by penetrating separatist groups, said Gurov and Nikolai Leonov, a retired general and former head of the KGB’s analytical department.
Both experts acknowledged that it is extremely difficult to plant informers inside tight-knit groups, like Chechen separatists, and that tapping their vaguely worded communications might have failed to provide crucial details of when and where they could strike.
However, even if they were unable to learn about the attack during the planning stage, law-enforcers could have netted some of the terrorists during their deployment, Gurov and Leonov said. This would have been possible if Moscow police had had an adequate network of agents in local Chechen gangs and cells of Islamist extremists, some of whose members have reportedly maintained close contacts with the separatists and have even fought on their side, the experts said. It would have been extremely difficult for the terrorists to sneak into the city, select and case out the target and carry out the attack without logistical support from such individuals or groups based in the Russian capital, they said.
Perhaps the most glaring failure was that as many as 50 terrorists managed to travel around Moscow in cars with arms and explosives, Karaganov said.
- Karaganov noted, however, that Russian security services have prevented terrorist attacks in the past and said it would be wrong to put the blame entirely on the FSB and Interior Ministry. Even if they operated efficiently and focused entirely on prevention, law-enforcement and security agencies would not be able to intercept all terrorists, Karaganov and Leonov said.
“It is like intelligence and counterintelligence,” said Leonov, who worked in the KGB’s intelligence unit. “The latter will always be at an advantage, because it picks where to act, while the former physically cannot protect everything.”
To close the eerie parallels loop: despite 9/11, anthrax, Bali, and now Moscow, the US “remains ‘dangerously unprepared’ to deal with another major terrorist attack”:
- “In all likelihood, the next attack will result in even greater casualties and widespread disruption to American lives and the economy” than the Sept. 11 attacks, said the task force chaired by former Sens. Gary Hart, D-Colo., and Warren Rudman, R-N.H. The report was released late Thursday.
The report comes a week after CIA Director George Tenet warned that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network is likely to strike against the United States sometime soon and that the current situation is similar to what existed before the Sept. 11 attacks. Tenet previously said a terrorist attack would be more likely if the United States takes military action against Iraq.
Because a year has passed without a major terrorist attack against the United States, the report says, “there are already signs that Americans are lapsing back into complacency.”
Few of the ships, trucks and trains that enter the United States each day are searched, the report said. Emergency personnel are unprepared for chemical or biological attacks. Oil refineries and energy distribution lines could be sabotaged. State and local police still lack access to State Department terrorist watch lists.
“When it comes to combating terrorism, the police officers on the beat are effectively operating deaf, dumb and blind,” it said.
….Hart and Rudman’s latest panel was formed by the Council on Foreign Relations. Its 17 members included former Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and George Shultz, former FBI and CIA Director William H. Webster and retired Adm. William J. Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
….Among the panel’s recommendations:
_Establish 24-hour operations centers in all states to provide terror watch list information.
_Provide federal funds to clear the backlog of state and local government requests for protective gear, training and communications equipment.
_Strengthen security for sea and land transportation.
_Evaluate areas of vulnerability for energy supplies and develop a stockpile of backup components so energy operations could be restored if damaged.
_Strengthen health agencies’ ability to detect disease outbreaks.
All the more urgent now, I’d say.
8:15 p.m. eastern
This just in from Reuters: – Two hostages taken out of the theater earlier on Saturday where Chechen rebels are holding hundreds captive had suffered wounds, Interfax news agency said.
The agency said one of the hostages, a woman, was wounded in the stomach, while the second, a man, had head wounds. It did not specify how the wounds had been inflicted.
Television pictures showed one of the hostages being carried out on a stretcher at about 2 a.m. (6 p.m. EDT Friday). Two ambulances drove up to the theater before the hostages were driven away.
10:00 p.m. eastern
Just in from AP:
- Two male hostages were killed and a male and female wounded early Saturday in the ongoing standoff at a Moscow theater said Pavel Kudryabtsev, an official at the command center.
- Russian officials say Chechen rebels in a Moscow theater killed two male hostages and wounded two others early Saturday.
The report came just after reporters heard a second burst of sporadic gunfire and explosions around the theatre where the rebels are holding as many as 600 Russians hostage.
The second set of noises occurred about 5.40 a.m Saturday morning Moscow time, just before the dawn deadline the rebels set. They said they would begin to shoot hostages then unless Russia agreed to pull its army out of Chechnya.
Earlier Saturday morning, about 3 a.m. local time, there was a small explosion in the theatre and sounds like shots. There was no explanation and no other developments.