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Newsline - October 26, 2002

At approximately 5:30 a.m. Moscow time on 26 October, Russian special forces, including the elite Alfa antiterrorism force, stormed the Moscow theater where armed Chechen fighters had been holding more than 800 people hostage since 23 October, Russian and Western media reported. Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilev announced that more than 750 hostages were successfully liberated. According to Vasilev, 67 hostages died during the operation, apparently killed by the Chechen fighters, although some might have died as a result of inhaling sleeping gas that Russian troops used during the operation. Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev reported that none of the Chechen gunmen escaped from the building, that 37 of them -- including their leader, Movsar Baraev -- were killed, and that at least two -- including one woman -- were taken into custody. Vasilev confirmed that some security troops were also killed during the operation, but he declined to say how many. None of the estimated 70 non-Russian citizens who were among the hostages was killed, according to media reports. VY

Security forces began the storming operation shortly after the hostage takers began fulfilling their threat to kill their hostages if the government failed to respond to their demands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2002), Russian and Western media reported. Deputy Interior Minister Vasilev said two hostages were executed and two others wounded before the decision to storm the theater was made. In addition, before the operation began, a group of hostages apparently attempted to escape, provoking a firefight between the gunmen and security forces. This incident compelled the crisis-management team to order the building taken by force, Vasilev said. However, a member of the Chechen diaspora in Moscow told RFE/RL's Russian Service that the hostage takers began executing hostages after receiving information that their relatives in Chechnya, including Baraev's nephew, were being arrested. VY

According to a description of the operation published on the website of "Moskovskii komsomolets" (, "in order to minimize the number of casualties, Alfa pumped sleeping gas into the building's ventilation system and immediately broke into the building by blowing up a wall in the rear of the building." Vasilev said there was some panic among hostages, who began to run toward the building's exits. However, an unidentified Alfa officer who participated in the action reported that everyone was asleep when security forces entered the theater's main hall, according to the "Moskovskii komsomolets" website on 26 October. "We killed [the female kamikazes] while they were asleep by shooting them in the head. Of course, this is cruel, but how else can you disarm a person who has a 2-kilogram explosive strapped to their body," the officer was quoted as saying. State-controlled ORT and RTR television showed about a dozen corpses of female hostage takers in various locations throughout the theater wearing traditional Muslim dress and having what appeared to be explosives tied to their waists. Vasilev said the use of the gas had prevented the terrorists from acting on their threat to blow up the building, which would likely have killed everyone inside. VY

The heads of Russia's security and law enforcement agencies hailed the success of the storming operation and promised further action against "terrorists" throughout Russia, ORT and other Russian news agencies reported on 26 October. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said he met with President Vladimir Putin on 26 October and that criminal charges would be filed against everyone involved in the hostage-taking incident. "Everything will be done to clarify how the crime was organized and who helped the terrorists, both in Moscow and abroad," Ustinov said. Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov told journalists that his agency has established connections between the hostage takers and "some foreign missions in Moscow." He said his ministry will work with the Foreign Ministry to investigate these connections. VY

More than 30 suspected accomplices of the hostage takers have been detained in Moscow, reported on 26 October, citing Interior Minister Gryzlov. Gryzlov told reporters "more than 30 accomplices of terrorists who tried to help them" have been detained by police. He said that people were detained in districts throughout the city, including near the besieged theater. Deputy Interior Minister Vasilev was even more explicit. "We, naturally, have much more information today than yesterday and even just a few hours ago. I am sure that now we will clean not only Moscow, but all of Russia of this filth," Vasilev said on national television. Police in Moscow continue to maintain a high-security regime, the head of the Moscow Municipal Interior Ministry's press service, Valerii Gribakin, said. The number of officers on the streets has been doubled, and all "strategically important points" are under close observation. Schools throughout Moscow were closed on 26 October. reported on 26 October that police are searching all automobiles entering and leaving the capital, causing kilometers-long traffic jams. VY/RC

Russian special forces have begun combing all raions of Chechnya where small groups of militants are believed to be located and have already killed three Chechen fighters near the village of Novogroznenskii, according to on 26 October. At the same time, the website quoted Chechnya's military commandant Lieutenant General Sergei Kizyun as denying that a large-scale military operation is under way. Kizyun added that events in Moscow will not have any impact on how military operations are conducted in Chechnya. LF

Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who rejected a 24 October offer from the hostage takers that they would release 50 hostages if he took their place, praised on 26 October the special operation to release the Moscow hostages, reported. Kadyrov claimed there is no precedent in world experience for such a precisely executed and successful operation and proposed that it be included in all textbooks for special services. He added that he never doubted for a moment that President Putin would make the most correct and appropriate decisions to secure the hostages' release. Kadyrov described as "hasty and not thought through" appeals to Putin on 25 October by various Russian political figures to comply with the hostage takers' demand for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and the beginning of talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. He argued that such a withdrawal would have led to a dead-end situation in Chechnya and "prolonged the sufferings of the Chechen people." LF

Kadyrov further argued that Maskhadov and the deputy commander of the Chechen armed forces, Shamil Basaev, are "the main culprits" behind the hostage taking and that they should be "neutralized," as should all other "terrorists," reported. Kadyrov again said, as he has on numerous occasions, that peace talks with the leaders of the Chechen fighters or their representatives are "unacceptable." He added that anyone who argues in favor of such talks is "an accomplice and abettor" of the militants. Kadyrov characterized the situation in Chechnya as relatively quiet, adding that he is confident the militants will not succeed in seizing any buildings there. LF

In an appeal posted on on 26 October, presumably very shortly before the storming of the theater, Chechen Deputy Premier Akhmed Zakaev assured the hostage takers that President Maskhadov was following the unfolding developments closely. Zakaev said that while Maskhadov understands what motivated the hostage takers, "we must not copy our opponent, [who is] indiscriminate in [his methods for] trying to achieve his objective." He conveyed Maskhadov's thanks to the hostage takers for releasing a number of children from among the hostages. Zakaev noted that the hostage takers' demands are political in nature and that their fulfillment is contingent on the political will of the Russian leadership. Zakaev quoted Maskhadov as assuring the hostage takers that his representatives are ready to establish contact immediately and unconditionally in order to discuss a political solution. He also appealed to the hostage takers on Maskhadov's behalf to act "sensibly and refrain from precipitous steps." "The New York Times" on 26 October quoted an unidentified Kremlin official as saying the Russian leadership tried without success on 25 October to establish contact with Maskhadov's representatives abroad. LF

Deputy Interior Minister Vasilev dismissed as groundless media reports that some of the 67 hostages that died during the operation had been killed by an overdose of the sleeping gas used by the security forces, ORT and RTR reported on 26 October. He acknowledged that nine hostages have been pronounced dead of heart failure following the incident, but said he had been told by doctors that the cause in each case was stress and exhaustion. However, RFE/RL's correspondents in Moscow reported that some of the 750 freed hostages had been placed in the toxicological departments of Moscow hospitals for treatment. Chemical weapons expert and environmental activist Lev Fedorov told RFE/RL's Russian Service that the use of nonlethal gas during the operation does not represent a violation of the international Chemical Weapons Conventions. He said that although such gases can have negative side effects, it cannot be denied that people really do die from cardiac arrest under such stressful conditions. VY

The Media Ministry on 25 October removed the Moskoviya television station from the air for "gross violations" of the law on combating terrorism and extremism in its coverage of the Moscow hostage drama, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. Following the storming of the theater, the Media Ministry announced that Moskoviya would be returned to the air on 26 October, reported. The website also reported that Moskoviya's management claimed the Media Ministry did not issue any warnings to the station before removing it from the air. The ministry also asked the Communications Ministry to shut down the website of radio station Ekho Moskvy, on which the texts of interviews with the hostage takers had been posted, RosBalt reported on 25 October. The Media Ministry withdrew its request later the same day, however, after the station's management removed the texts. RC

The Media Ministry harshly criticized the government organ "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 26 October for a photograph that appeared on the daily's front page on 25 October, reported. "The photograph on the front page of 'Rossiiskaya gazeta' offends not only the memory and dignity of the slain hostages, but is also immoral in regard to the people who remain in the theater and their relatives," Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii said. The ministry asked all journalists to consider the "morality" of their coverage and particularly of their choice of photographs for publication. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" General Director Dmitrii Sinyukov told Interfax that company management had discussed the Media Ministry's complaint and agreed with it. He said the paper's Deputy Editor Yurii Makartsev has been disciplined, and "the editorial board in the future will be more responsible in regard to publications affecting the honor and dignity of citizens." RC

Oleg Savchenko -- president of the European Ball-Bearing Corporation, which owns the Moscow theater where the hostage drama was played out -- announced on 26 October that his company will pay 1 million rubles ($31,000) for information leading to the capture of any people who participated in or assisted in the preparation of the hostage taking, RosBalt reported. Furthermore, the company will pay 3 million rubles to the special-forces units that participated in the operation to end the standoff. RC

Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov on 26 October expressed his satisfaction with the operation to free the Moscow hostages, reported, citing Bashinform. During the crisis, Rakhimov had been critical of the security services for not being able to prevent the crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 25 October 2002). "International terrorism knows no borders, has no ethnic or religious affinities. It is essentially inhuman and always directed against innocent people. The world community must work out effective means to combat all manifestations of this kind of crime," Rakhimov said. "In addition to improving vigilance and security, consolidating society, and strengthening the state and law enforcement agencies, it is extremely important to pull out the roots of terrorism, to resolve the essence of the problem through essentially political means." On 25 October, Rakhimov advocated trilateral talks among Russian officials, the pro-Russian administration in Grozny, and Maskhadov's representatives in an attempt to negotiate an end to the Chechen conflict and create a coalition government, Interfax reported. He pointed out that similar talks ended the five-year civil war in Tajikistan. RC/LF

Rakhman Dushuev, who is Maskhadov's general representative, told on 25 October that the Russian authorities distorted the content of the video-cassette screened on ORT earlier that day in which, Russian officials claim, President Maskhadov announced the mass hostage taking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2002). The Maskhadov address in question is presumably one released last month in which Maskhadov said the Chechen resistance would abandon its tactics of partisan warfare and launch broad-scale military operations aimed at forcing the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002). Dushuev denied that Maskhadov's statement constituted a reference to the planned hostage taking in Moscow. LF

An organization representing the veterans of the elite Alfa unit, which was formerly part of the KGB, published on 24 October an open letter in support of President Putin. The Moscow hostage taking "is not an act of desperation, but a well-calculated step to attack President Putin and his political policies," the letter said, according to Vice Admiral Aleksandr Zhardetskii, a former chief of KGB military counterintelligence, told the website, "The Chechen separatists understand only the language of force." Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov, a former chief of the KGB's Analytical Directorate, said Russians should get used to sacrificing human lives if they want to protect "the sacred goal -- the indivisibility of the country." VY

Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist with "Novaya gazeta" who was scheduled to receive one of three Courage in Journalism Awards from the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) in Los Angeles on 24 October, flew home to Moscow to help in negotiations with the Chechen rebels holding the hostages in the Moscow theater. Late on 23 October, Politkovskaya received word that the hostage takers had requested her participation in negotiations, and she left Los Angeles early on 24 October. She asked that the following message be read to IWMF supporters: "Dear friends! I want to thank you once again. It is a great honor for me to receive the Courage in Journalism Award. However -- and I think you will agree with me -- it is an even greater honor for me to respond when destiny offers the opportunity to help people when a crisis strikes. There's a major tragedy unfolding in Russia today, and those circumstances require that it is today -- and not a day later -- that I need to prove that I indeed have courage. I have always believed that Russian journalism, first and foremost, is the journalism of action. The journalism of taking the step that you simply must take. Please pray for us, those who are directly affected by this crisis. And of course, say a prayer for me. I am ever more convinced that the war in Chechnya must be brought to an end. And today, the time has come for me to appeal to President [George W.] Bush and plead with him to use his influence with President Putin to stop the bloodshed in Chechnya and to prevent it in Moscow." CC

There is no Transcaucasia and Central Asia items today, as this is a special edition on the Moscow hostage crisis.

There is no Central and Eastern Europe items today, as this is a special edition on the Moscow hostage crisis.

There is no Southeastern Europe items today, as this is a special edition on the Moscow hostage crisis.


The predawn storming on 26 October by Russian special forces of the Moscow theater seized by Chechen militants three days earlier succeeded in rescuing most of the hostages alive, while most of the estimated 50 hostage takers were killed. The interrogation of the remaining militants began almost immediately, but no details have yet been divulged.

The raid, however, leaves several crucial questions unanswered. Was Movsar Baraev, the leader of the hostage takers, acting on his own initiative? And if not, was he co-opted by some group in Moscow with an interest in prolonging -- and even intensifying -- the war in Chechnya, or by a militant Islamist group outside Russia?

Observers have already pointed out that Baraev and his accomplices represent a new generation of Chechen militants. They were reportedly in their early to mid-twenties and epitomize the phenomenon that former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov warned of two years ago: young men who have never known anything but war, with only an elementary education, who are more ruthless than their predecessors, and who acknowledge no authorities.

Khasbulatov on 25 October characterized Baraev and his comrades as "young wolves" out to undermine Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. But in film footage shot inside the theater on 25 October and summarized the following day by, Baraev reportedly said he recognizes Maskhadov as Chechen president. He also said that the hostage taking was approved by Shamil Basaev, deputy commander of the Chechen armed forces, who is suspected of having acted in 1999 at the behest of Russia's Federal Security Service. Basaev's nomination by Maskhadov in July as head of Chechnya's military council led some observers to question whether Basaev and other hardliners have co-opted Maskhadov.

"The Washington Post" on 25 October reported that Baraev's group, the leadership of which he took over in June 2001 after the death of his uncle, Arbi, has links with former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev -- who is believed to be living now in Qatar -- and might have been receiving funding via Yandarbiev from unnamed Muslim governments.

But at the same time, Chechens who knew Movsar Baraev personally, while admitting that the group he headed was both ruthless and well-organized, have expressed doubt that he could or would have undertaken an operation of this magnitude on his own initiative. "The Washington Post" on 25 October quoted Maskhadov's former press secretary, Mairbek Vachagaev, as saying that "to organize this you have to be a real leader. [Baraev] doesn't have knowledge. He is not wise. He is not sharp."

A second Chechen official, Lema Usmanov, who is Maskhadov's representative in the United States, pointed out on 23 October that given the vigilance that Moscow police regularly display toward anyone who appears to be from the Caucasus, it would have been virtually impossible for a group of 50 Chechens in camouflage gear to have made their way into and through Moscow without assistance from some agency within the city.

The hostage taking also raises the question of whether the various tentative peace initiatives launched in recent months by Khasbulatov, former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, and former Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin are now dead in the water. Speaking at RFE/RL's Washington office on 24 October, Rybkin called for direct talks between Maskhadov and President Vladimir Putin. But that prospect seems utopian, given that Russian officials have accused Maskhadov directly, first of announcing the planned hostage taking in advance and then of coordinating the actions of the hostage takers. Moreover, Russian forces in Chechnya have reportedly launched widespread search operations aimed at apprehending all surviving Chechen fighters -- including Maskhadov.