Russians Storm Theater; Kill Chechen Rebel Leader
Saturday, October 26, 2002
MOSCOW ó Russian special forces have the Moscow hostage situation under control, after storming the theater where Chechen rebels held hundreds of
hostages. Officials report that the Russians killed the Chechen rebel leader. Around 20 bodies were seen being taken from the theater, following the
The bodies were brought out shortly after an AP photographer saw about a hundred Russian special forces troops and firefighters entered the building.
Wounded hostages were seen being removed from the theater.
Movsar Barayev ó a young warlord who inherited a gang of rebels from his uncle, the infamous Arbi Barayev ó had led the group of as many as 50 heavily
armed men and women into the theater Wednesday evening. Kudryavtsev said he was killed in the rescue raid.
The hostages were being let out of the building, said Pavel Kudryavtsev, an official at the command center handling the crisis. Buses were also seen
heading to the theater.
The Interfax news agency also said several people, apparently hostage-takers, were being brought out from the building with their hands bound.
The developments came just before sunrise Saturday ó the deadline by when the gunmen threatened to begin killing their captives unless Russia declared
an end to the war in Chechnya and began withdrawing troops.
The crisis began Wednesday night when about 50 Chechen rebels, including women who said they were war widows, stormed the theater. From the start the
rebels have said they were ready to die and take the hostages with them. Putin on Friday promised the hostage-takers would not be killed if they freed
Late Friday, a mediator who met with the gunmen said they promised to release the hostages if Russian President Vladimir Putin declared an end to the
war in Chechnya and began withdrawing troops.
The new demands were brought out of the theater just before midnight Friday by Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who is respected by Chechens
for her reporting on the war and was called in by the rebels to mediate.
Asked if the captors seemed to be preparing to start killing the hostages, Politkovskaya said they told her: "We're going to wait only a little
Politkovskaya listed rebel demands, and foremost among them were Putin's declaration of an end to the war and the start of a Russian withdrawal from
one region anywhere in Chechnya to show good will. If verified, the rebels promised to free the hostages.
She said the captors agreed to her suggestion that verification be done by Lord Judd, a member of the Council of Europe who has made many trips to
investigate the human rights situation in Chechnya.
The demand was the first time that the gunmen revealed specific conditions for freeing the hostages, estimated to number as many as 800 and include
Americans, Britons, Dutch, Australians, Canadians, Austrians and Germans. Earlier, the captors demanded that Russia withdraw from Chechnya.
Putin said Friday that "the preservation of the lives of the people who remain in the theater building" was his overriding concern. Federal Security
Service chief Nikolai Patrushev said after meeting with Putin that the hostage-takers' lives would be guaranteed if they freed their captives.
Daria Morgunova, a spokeswoman for the musical, told The Associated Press that an actor who was among the hostages called her to say that the captors
had threatened to begin killing hostages at dawn. She said she received the call about two hours before Patrushev's statement.
The heavily armed hostage-takers have said they are ready to die and take their hostages with them if their demands aren't met, and witnesses say
they have wired the building and themselves with explosives.
The gunmen released 19 hostages Friday, including eight children aged between 6 and 12. Dressed in winter coats ó and one clutching a teddy bear with
aviator goggles ó the children appeared healthy as they left the building accompanied by Red Cross workers in the afternoon.
Seven adults were freed earlier in the day, and four citizens of Azerbaijan were released after dark, Russian officials said.
Politkovskaya, a reporter for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, arranged earlier for the hostage-takers to accept deliveries of water
and warm meals for the captives.
She was one of several influential figures who entered the theater late Friday in efforts to mediate with the captors. They also included former Prime
Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Ruslan Aushev, the former president of Ingushetia, a region bordering Chechnya.
The hostage-takers have derided the Kremlin for refraining from sending high-level officials to negotiate.
Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilyev was quoted by news agencies as saying unsuccessful attempts had been made to contact Aslan Maskhadov, a
rebel leader who was president of Chechnya between Russian troops' withdrawal in 1996 and resumption of the war three years later.
"The leader of the terrorist act is Maskhadov. It was organized with his participation," Vasilyev said in televised comments, while state-run
Russian networks broadcast footage meant to prove the link.
From a tape apparently made sometime since June, the footage showed Maskhadov saying rebels have shifted from guerrilla warfare to an "offensive"
strategy and adding: "I am certain that in the final stage we will carry out a still more unique action, like the jihad, and with this operation we
will liberate our land from the Russian aggressors."
Hostages gave varying accounts of conditions in the theater, with one saying the captives hadn't received food or water and been using the orchestra
pit as a toilet.
A group of about 80 demonstrators outside the theater carried banners and chanted anti-war slogans. Several said they were responding to requests from
relatives who were among the hostages.
Alexander Petrov, a demonstrator who said he had friends inside the theater, said previously he had not been opposed to the Chechen war, but now
"what way out is there?"
Dozens of Nord-Ost cast members showed up later Friday to sing tunes from the musical, tears coursing down their faces, in a gesture of support and
concern for their comrades inside.
Vasilyev warned that unauthorized mass actions would not be tolerated, and the Media Ministry briefly ordered a television station briefly off the air
for its coverage of the hostage crisis, also disciplining some other media for letting "terrorists" on the air. Other television stations backed off
the full-time coverage that characterized the first day of the crisis.
The hostage takeover occurred only three miles from the Kremlin and undermines claims by Putin, who insists the situation is under control in
Chechnya. Russian soldiers die daily in mine explosions and small battles.