Moscow theater hostage crisis

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Moscow theatre hostage crisis
Two of the hostage-takers in the theater.
Location Moscow
Target(s) Dubrovka theatre
Date October 23, 2002
Attack Type Hostage crisis
Fatalities At least 163 to 173
Injuries Hundreds
Perpetrator(s) Movsar Barayev (leader)
Shamil Basayev (claimed responsibility)
Motive Forcing Russian military withdrawal from Chechnya

The Moscow theatre hostage crisis was the seizure on October 23, 2002 of a crowded Moscow theatre by armed Chechen men and women who claimed allegiance to the separatist movement in Chechnya. They took 850 hostages and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and end to the Second Chechen War.

After a siege of two and a half days, Russian OSNAZ (special forces) raided the building with the assistance of an unidentified "knockout gas". All of the 42 terrorists were killed, along with at least 129 of the hostages, with no official OSNAZ casualties.


[edit] Hostage-taking

The attack took place at the House of Culture of the State Ball-Bearing Plant Number 1, a Moscow theatre, in the Dubrovka area, named after its former owner. During Act II of a sold out performance of Nord-Ost, 42 heavily armed men and women entered the theatre and took everyone present hostage, both audience and performers. The gunmen — led by Movsar Barayev, nephew of a slain Chechen military leader — threatened to kill the hostages unless Russian forces immediately and unconditionally withdrew from Chechnya.

Some performers who had been resting backstage escaped through an open window and called the police. The escapers reported that approximately half of the terrorists were women, which was highly unusual. Cellphone conversations with hostages trapped in the building revealed that the hostage-takers had grenades and other explosives strapped to their bodies, and had deployed more explosives throughout the theatre, one in the center of the theatre, and one in the balcony. A videotaped statement was acquired by the media, in which the gunmen declared their willingness to die for their cause.

[edit] Statement

The videotaped statement contained the following text:

Every nation has the right to their fate. Russia has taken away this right from the Chechens and today we want to reclaim these rights, which Allah has given us, in the same way he has given it to other nations. Allah has given us the right of freedom and the right to choose our destiny. And the Russian occupiers have flooded our land with our children's blood. And we have longed for a just solution. People are unaware of the innocent who are dying in Chechnya: the sheikhs, the women, the children and the weak ones. And therefore, we have chosen this approach. This approach is 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. If we die, others will come and follow us—our brothers and sisters who are willing to sacrifice their lives, in Allah's way, to liberate their nation. Our nationalists have died but people have said that they, the nationalists, are terrorists and criminals. But the truth is Russia is the true criminal.
[citation needed]

[edit] Standoff

Over the course of first two days of the siege, the Muslim members of the audience, as well as some children, and a man with a heart condition were released. Negotiations on release of non-Russian nationals were followed by an embassies. Several hostages did manage to escape through rear or side windows of the building.

On the day two, an unidentified woman managed to make her way through the blockade and enter the theater. She confronted the hostages to stand up to the terrorists and was then led away and executed. The next day a male person also managed to gain entry to the theater. It is said that he told the gunmen that he was there to fetch his son, but when his son did not seem to be present, he too was led away and shot. In another violent incident, gunman opened fire on a panicked hostage who made a run towards the bomb. The man was not hurt, but two other people were wounded by a stray bullets; these casualties were evacuated. Two members of the OMON police special forces were wounded by grenade fired from the building.

[edit] Raid

Early Saturday morning, October 26, forces from Russia's OSNAZ (or "special forces") from the Federal Security Service (FSB), with the assistance of the MVD (Interior Ministry) SOBR unit, surrounded and stormed the building from the roof and from all entrances.

In the absence of any subsequent public enquiry, the chain of events is unclear as it relies upon ultimately divergent reporting and witness testimony.

The raid was preceded by the sound of sporadic gunfire and explosions from within the theater. There had been reports earlier that the gunmen had announced that hostage executions would commence on the Saturday unless demands were met, but these were later delayed when the Russians spoke to the terrorists and bought some time by telling them a general involved in the Chechen conflict was on the way to negotiate.

It is settled that the security services pumped an aerosol anesthetic into the theater. This was done by means of the air conditioning system. After thirty minutes, when the gas had taken effect, the physical assault commenced from the roof and all entrances and, it is said, including through the sewers.

Within the theater, it became apparent to gunmen and hostages alike that a gas had been emitted into the building. Hostages reported that some people in the audience fell asleep, and the gunmen put on respirators. The men took up positions, readying for the assault, while the women waited inside to detonate the explosives. Ultimately, there was a gunfight between the Chechens and the Russian security forces within the auditorium, with the hostages caught in between. The fight spread throughout the building as the special forces systematically searched and fired upon persons that they identified as terrorists.

The special forces quickly secured the building, killing all of the terrorists in the building.

[edit] Aftermath

At least 42 terrorists and 120 hostages (official figures – 33 and 128 respectively, Moscow News figures: 129 hostages<ref name="moscnews">Nord-Ost Tragedy Goes On, Moscow News 2004 N.41 - a discussion of the long-term effects of the anesthetic on the surviving hostages</ref>) died in the raid or in the following days. Doctor Andrei Seltsovsky, Moscow's health committee chairman, announced that all but one of the hostages that were killed in the raid had died of the effects of the unknown gas, rather than from gunshot wounds.<ref name="bbc"> We are cool.Gas 'killed Moscow hostages', BBC News, October 27, 2002</ref>

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the raid in a televised address later that morning, stating that the government had "achieved the near impossible, saving hundreds, hundreds of people," asked forgiveness for not being able to save more of the hostages, and declared Monday a national day of mourning for those who died.<ref name="bbc"/>

The security forces further justified using the anesthetic because the gunmen and women, armed with explosives, were dispersed throughout the large building, and there was a likelihood that either the heavy explosives planted inside the building would be detonated or hostages killed if it was realized that they were under attack. During the raid, many of the Chechens were shot in the head at point-blank range after already losing consciousness from the gas. One Russian Alpha Group commando told the media, "I understand that this is cruel, but when there are two kilograms of plastic explosives hanging on a person, we see no other way of rendering them safe."

Armed guards were posted at the hospitals the victims were taken to, and doctors were ordered not to release any of the theater patients in case terrorists had somehow hidden themselves among the hostages. Family members of hostages panicked as the government refused to release any information about which hospitals their loved ones had been taken to, or even whether their relatives were among the dead.

The attack itself was condemned by industrialised nations as an act of terrorism, although within Chechnya it is seen as part of a continuing armed and political campaign for independence from the Russian Federation.

[edit] Identifying the gas

It was reported that efforts to treat victims were complicated because the Russian government refused to inform doctors what type of gas had been used. At the time, the gas was surmised to be some sort of surgical anesthetic or chemical weapon. Foreign embassies in Moscow issued official requests for more information on the gas to aid in treatment, but were publicly ignored.

While still refusing to identify the gas, on October 28 the Russian government informed the US Embassy of some of the gas' effects. Based on this information and examinations of victims, doctors concluded the gas was a morphine derivative.

On Wednesday, October 30, Russia responded to increasing domestic and international pressure with a statement on the unknown gas by Health Minister Yuri Shevchenko. He identified it as a fentanyl derivative<ref name="moscnews"/><ref name="wpostgas">Russia Confirms Suspicions About Gas Used in Raid - Potent Anesthetic Pumped Into Theater - 2 More Hostages Die From Drug's Effects, Susan B. Glasser and Peter Baker, Washington Post 2002-10-31 A.15</ref> (possibly the large animal immobilant carfentanil[citation needed]), a powerful opioid. Boris Grebenyuk, the All-Russia Disaster Relief Service chief, said the services used Trimethyl Phentanylum.<ref name="moscnews"/> New Scientist pointed out that trimethyl fentanyl is not a gas but an aerosol.<ref name="newsci">Mystery of Russian gas deepens news service, Debora MacKenzie, 2002-10-29</ref>

A German toxicology professor who examined several German hostages said that their blood and urine contained halothane, a surgical anesthetic not commonly used in the West, and that it was likely the gas had additional components. However, halothane has a strong odor (although often defined as "pleasant" by comparison with other anesthetic gases). Thus, by the time the whole theatre area would be filled with halothane to a concentration compatible with loss of consciousness (0.5% - 3%), it is likely that terrorists inside would have realized they were being attacked. Additionally, recovery of consciousness is rapid after the flow of gas is interrupted, unlike with high-dose fentanyl administration. Therefore, although halothane might have been a component in the aerosol, it was probably not a major component.[citation needed]

The gas is now generally agreed to have been the top-secret fentanyl derivative Kolokol-1 developed by the KGB in the 1970's.[citation needed] Russian doctors, who helped hostages in first minutes after the siege, used a usual fentanyl's antidote, naloxone, for injections.<ref name="specnaz">CHECHEN-NORTH-OST SPECIAL FORCE OF RUSSIA N 11 (74) NOVEMBER 2002 in Russian, last three paragraphs</ref> But fentanyl derivative's application caused chronic diseases grow acute for hostages, who stayed in the closed space without the water and food for several days.<ref name="specnaz"/> Another factor was the dose of fentanyl's derivative. It was calculated on terrorists - to effectively neutralize them for several minutes.<ref name="specnaz"/> According to Russian experts' conclusion, all hostages, who died, died not from the gas itself, but from complications, caused by its application in non-standard circumstances.<ref name="specnaz"/>

[edit] Long-term effects

While the siege was underway, the Russian government closed one television station, censored the coverage of another television station and a radio station, and publicly rebuked a newspaper for its coverage. On November 1, the lower house of the Duma approved broad new restrictions on press coverage of terrorism-related incidents, widely expected to meet with swift approval by the upper house and then Putin. The Duma refused to consider a proposal by the liberal Union of Right Forces party to form an investigative commission charged with probing the government's actions in the theatre siege. These new policies prompted renewed fears in Russia that Putin is systematically taking control of all Russian media.[citation needed]

Rebel military commander Shamil Basayev posted a statement on his website claiming responsibility for the incident, resigning all official positions within the Chechen government, and apologizing to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov for not informing him of the planned raid.<ref name="wpost">Russian Lawmakers Vote to Curb News Media - Terrorism Reporting Restricted After Crisis Peter Baker, Washington Post partial preview, November 2 2002, A.18</ref> The Russian government claims that wiretapped phone conversations prove that Maskhadov knew of the plans in advance<ref name="wpost2">Russia Defends Actions Taken in Theater Siege - No Regrets About Use of Gas or Secrecy, Peter Baker, Washington Post partial preview, November 1 2002, A.30</ref>, which he denied.[citation needed]

The attacks prompted Putin to tighten Russia's grip on Chechnya. The Russian government's media agency reported that 30 rebel fighters were killed in a battle outside Grozny on October 28, and Putin announced that unspecified "measures adequate to the threat" would henceforth be taken in response to terrorist activity.<ref name="rferl">Dead link: archived at internet archive Russia: Putin Vows to Take 'Appropriate Measures' Against Terrorists], Radio Free Europe, October 28. 2002</ref><ref name="bbcvows">Putin vows to crush rebels, BBC News, October 28, 2002</ref> The Chechens have responded in kind to the increased frequency of Russian raids following the siege. President Maskhadov's unconditional offer for talks with Russia was dismissed, as the Russians believed he exerted little influence in Chechnya.[citation needed]

Russia also accused Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen envoy and associate of Aslan Maskhadov of involvement. When he visited Denmark for a congress in October 2002, the Russians demanded his arrest and extradition. In Denmark he was held for over a month, but released when the Danish authorities were not convinced that sufficient evidence had been provided. On December 7, Zakajev claimed asylum in London. The British authorities arrested him but he was released on bail, paid by Vanessa Redgrave among others. His extradition proceedings then collapsed and he was given political asylum in Britain.[citation needed]

The Human Rights Watch reported Chechens in Moscow were subjected to increased harassment after the hostage crisis.<ref name="abc">On the Situation of Ethnic Chechens in Moscow Human Rights Watch</ref>

A similar hostage-taking by Chechen nationalists occurred in the Beslan school hostage crisis in September 2004.

[edit] See also

[edit] Further reading

[edit] References


[edit] External links and references

  • Nord-Ost Resources Site of Svetlana Gubareva
  • Dead link: not archived. In Moscow, a Tragic Final Scene, Washington Post, October 31, 2002
  • Russia Confirms Suspicions About Gas Used in Raid, Washington Post partial preview, October 31, 2002
  • 115 Hostages in Moscow Killed by Gas, Washington Post partial preview, October 27, 2002
  • Dead link: not archived. Hostage Crisis May Expand Putin's Mandate in Chechen War, Washington Post, October 30, 2002
  • Dead link: not archived. Putin Takes Hard Line on Terror, Stays Silent on Use of Deadly Gas, Washington Post, October 28, 2002
  • Dead link: not archived. Russia Confirms Gas Was Opiate-Based Fentanyl, Washington Post, October 30, 2002
  • Dead link: not archived. Russian Lawmakers Vote to Curb News Media, Washington Post, November 1, 2002ca:Presa d'ostatges del teatre Dubrovka

de:Geiselnahme im Moskauer Dubrowka-Theater ja:モスクワ劇場占拠事件 pl:Atak na moskiewski teatr na Dubrowce ru:Террористический акт на Дубровке sl:Teroristični napad v gledališču Dubrovka fi:Moskovan teatterikaappaus

Moscow theater hostage crisis

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