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Russia: Top Medical Official Denies Poison Gases Used In Theater Siege

Moscow, 29 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Russian presidency's top medical official, Viktor Fominykh, has denied that "sarin or other poison gases" were used to neutralize Chechen hostage takers during Saturday's raid on a Moscow theater. Fominykh made the comment yesterday. He said sarin or any other poison gas can be ruled out because the purpose of the raid "had not been to kill everyone."

At least 117 hostages died when Russian forces stormed the theater taken over by Chechen hostage takers on 23 October.

All but two of the hostages who died were killed by the effects of the gas used to disable the hostage takers. More than 750 hostages were freed during the raid.

Fominykh said an "anesthetizing gas used in surgery" was used during the raid.

He said it is not essential to know the exact composition of the gas in order to provide treatment to patients still hospitalized from its effects. Some 450 people in Moscow hospitals are recovering from the effects of the gas.

U.S. Defense Department officials are quoted as saying the mysterious gas was an opiate -- a chemical related to morphine.

The Pentagon officials say such substances not only kill pain and dull the senses but also can cause coma and death by shutting down breathing and circulation.