Saturday 1 p.m. ET
It’s very bad, but it could have been worse:
- The number of hostages killed after being held hostage by Chechen rebels in a Moscow theater rose to 90, the Russian Health Ministry said Saturday, according to Russian news agencies.
Earlier, Russian officials said 67 hostages were dead after special forces stormed the theater, freeing more than 700 captives and killing 50 rebels
Nearly all the survivors were hospitalized after being freed, which came after Russian forces used sleeping gas to immobilize inside the theater.
Several of the hostages who were taken to hospitals in Moscow were unconscious or had difficulty walking.
Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilyev said 67 hostages were killed, but did not specify whether that figure included people known to have been killed by the rebels before Saturday’s raid. He said no children or foreigners were among the dead.
Vasilyev said about 750 other hostages were freed and 34 of the hostage-takers were killed, though the Federal Security Service later said 50 captors died, including 18 women, and three were detained, the Interfax news agency reported.
Vasilyev confirmed a special gas was used to knock out those inside the theater, but did not say what the substance was.
Early Thursday morning, reader PJ suggested gas may be the answer: he was right.
More from German Deutsche Welle:
- President Vladimer Putin has visited some of the survivers of the Moscow theatre siege at one of the city’s hospitals. Some of the survivers are reported to have died in hospital, as a result of heart related problems, induced by the ordeal and others from the pumped-in gas. Several died when they unintentially set off booby-traps, when the rescue began. Officials gave no details of other dead hostages, but Australian and British diplomats said they had been told none of the estimated 75 foreign captives were among them.
- Within hours of the hostage drama in Moscow ending, Russian troops launched a major offensive in Chechnya. A military spokesman in the Chechen capital, Grozny confirmed special units throughout the republic had launched the offensive.
Pravda has a report from a journalist who was among the hostages:
- Olga Chernyak, a journalist from the Russian news agency Interfax who was among the hostages held by the terrorists in the theatre within the past three days, says that all hostages would die if the building wasn’t stormed. Olga is currently in the hospital.
“We were all waiting for death, as we understood perfectly well that the terrorists wouldn’t set us free. We were sure they wouldn’t release us even if their every claim was allowed. The terrorists, especially the women, told openly: “We came here to die, we all want to go to Allah and you will follow us as well.”
According to the Interfax employee, the terrorists started killing hostages Saturday early. “We all witnessed a woman and a man were executed. The man was shot at the eye, there was much blood. I was sitting in the stalls in the center of the hall. This was going on right by my side. I actually thought at that moment that we would be all killed as well. Then something occurred, I lost my conscience and recovered only in the reanimation ward. Probably that was the effect of some special gas. I am sure that we were rescued from inevitable death.”
It was Interfax journalist Olga Chernyak who reported about the hostage taking in the theatre on October 23; she was constantly sending SMS-messages until the cell phone completely discharged.
Olga is currently in a Moscow hospital. Interfax together with law enforcement authorities keep on searching Olga’s husband who was also among the hostages in the theatre.
Ultimately, people see only the terror, the cause behind it loses any meaning:
- “LIKE SEPTEMBER 11”
Some analysts have said the siege would almost certainly tarnish Putin’s position, if only by showing the law and order he promised could be so easily upset by a band of rebels.
But one bystander, Igor Konstantinov, in his 60s, was in no doubt about what he thought, comparing the campaign against the Chechens to President Bush’s war on terrorism:
“Putin has only one choice. Bush showed the world what to do with these bastards after September 11.
“It’s Putin’s turn to liquidate them in Russia.”
Putin himself makes that link. He enthusiastically backed Bush after last year’s September 11 attacks.
Western nations had shown some sympathy for the moderate Chechen leadership before September 11, particularly in light of Russian military excesses. Signs that some Chechens have ties to radical Islamists like Osama bin Laden have changed some minds.
- President Vladimir Putin (news – web sites) asked forgiveness from the families of hostages killed when Russian troops stormed a rebel-held Moscow theater on Saturday and blamed the crisis on international terrorism.
“We have not been able to save all. Forgive us,” Putin said in a television address.
At least 90 theater-goers died and more than 750 were freed when commandos stormed the theater, seized three days ago by Chechen guerrillas demanding an end to war in Chechnya.
Putin blamed the raid on international terrorism, which he called a “strong and dangerous, inhuman and cruel enemy.”
“Nowhere in the world can people feel secure until it is vanquished. But it must be vanquished. And it will be vanquished,” he said.
Profile of Chechen terrorist leader:
- His foes called him one of the youngest, fiercest and cruelest of Chechen gang leaders.
But by seizing hundreds of hostages and taking the Chechen war to the heart of Moscow, Movsar Barayev made a bid to become a hero — or martyr — of Chechen separatists’ struggle for independence in their southern republic. That choice meant his death in a blaze of violence early today, Russian authorities said.
After Barayev, 23, and his fighters began killing hostages before dawn, Russian forces stormed the building where about 700 theatergoers were being held. He was among those killed in the battle, security official Pavel Kudryavtsev said.
It remains to be seen whether his actions trigger enough disgust with the war among ordinary Russians to benefit the Chechen fighters. The results of his audacious raid could instead provoke a backlash that hurts their cause and only strengthens President Vladimir V. Putin’s determination to crush the breakaway effort.
….Barayev was born in the city of Argun in Chechnya, where he grew up in a typical five-floor apartment building.
“He was a tender boy and was a good student,” Zara Satsieva, a neighbor in Argun, told NTV television. “I can’t say anything bad about him.”
But Barayev often was portrayed as a gangster who inherited a kidnapping business once run by his warlord uncle, Arbi, who was killed by Russian forces in June 2001.
Arbi Barayev’s gang was famous in Russia for kidnapping, torturing and executing hostages. NTV television has run footage which it said was from a video made before Arbi Barayev’s death and sent to relatives of one hostage. It shows an unshaven Movsar Barayev smiling and twirling a knife, then lowering the blade toward the neck of an unidentified woman.
- All but two of the 117 hostages so far confirmed dead in the Moscow theater siege died of gas poisoning, the city’s top doctor said Sunday.
Andrei Seltsovsky, chairman of the health committee of the city of Moscow, said only one of the around 800 hostages had died from gunshot wounds when elite troops stormed the musical theater early Saturday.
Asked what the others had died from, he said: “From the effects of the gas exposure.”
One man had been shot dead during the operation to free the captives. The second to die of gunshot wounds was a woman shot while trying to escape when the theater was seized by around 50 Chechen guerrillas Wednesday night.
Seltsovsky told a news conference that 646 of the freed hostages were still in hospital, of whom 150 were in intensive care and 45 were “in a grave condition.”
The unidentified chemical was so powerful that the Chechen suicide fighters had no time to detonate the explosives strapped to their waists.
Sergei, 36, who declined to give his family name, told Reuters after he was released from hospital that the gas had smelled slightly bitter. Chemical warfare experts say nerve gas often smells of bitter almonds.
London-based security expert, Michael Yardley, said he believed the gas used was BZ, a colorless, odorless incapacitant with hallucinogenic properties, first used by the United States in Vietnam.
He said the symptoms displayed by the hostages in Moscow — inability to walk, memory loss, fainting, heartbeat irregularities, sickness — all pointed to BZ. According to the U.S. army the side effects last 60 hours, Yardley said.
The loss of life is brutal, but what was the alternative? Hostages were being killed, and the terrorists were wired for explosives. Key line from the report: “The unidentified chemical was so powerful that the Chechen suicide fighters had no time to detonate the explosives strapped to their waists.”
Had even one of the terorists been able to detonate him/herself, that would have been it for all 800 or so.