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The BBC's Brian Barron
"For the Istanbul guests, it was a terrifying experience"
 real 56k

British hostage, Karen Early
"A guy with a gun motioned to me to put my hands in the air"
 real 28k

The BBC's Peter Miles
"The Chechen struggle with Moscow has long been popular in Turkey"
 real 28k

Monday, 23 April, 2001, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Britons among freed Istanbul hostages
Hostages leaving the hotel
All the hostages were released unharmed
British hostages caught up in the Istanbul hotel siege have been describing their 10-hour ordeal at the hands of pro-Chechen gunmen.

Two English women, and two British pilots with the Cathay Pacific airline, were among the guests freed from the luxury Swisshotel after the gunmen surrendered on Monday morning.

At least 13 gunmen burst into the hotel lobby late on Sunday night, firing automatic weapons into the ceiling.

I was shell-shocked, I did not know what was going on, it was pretty scary

Karen Early
Reports say they rounded up dozens of guests, holding around 30 hostages in a fifth-floor conference room.

Conference organiser Karen Early, 28, from Surrey, said she had been "shell-shocked" by the drama.

Miss Early, speaking after her release, said she was woken in the early hours and taken to the hotel reception by the gunmen.

"I thought it was a fire but when I got to the elevator there was a guy waiting with a gun," she said.

"He made us hold our hands up and walk into the lobby where they were holding the other people."

Political demands

Hundreds of police surrounded the building early on Monday morning, while the area was sealed off.

Some guests escaped from the hotel through fire exits.

The gunmen demanded a meeting with Turkish Interior Minister Saadettin Tantan.

Sheila and Tony Early, parents of hotel hostage Karen Early
Karen Early's parents: Relieved the drama is over
Miss Early, who was at the hotel with her assistant, Helen Somerville, was allowed to telephone her parents in Epsom, Surrey.

Her father, Tony Early, 62, a retired property expert, said the first he and his wife Sheila knew of the drama was when he heard the morning radio news. Five minutes later his daughter phoned.

"She said she had been allowed to make a phone call out, because the terrorists wanted to spread the word.

"She sounded tense and there was an underlying tautness there, as you can imagine, but she was clear and confident and not panicking."

Hijack history

Mr Early said the reports that Chechens were involved had been very worrying.

"We thought that whatever the rights and wrongs of their politics, they are known to be pretty volatile and were heavily armed as well.

"Even with the best will in the world, accidents can happen. "We are very relieved it is all over."

The two British pilots were among a group of 16 Cathay Pacific aircrew staying at the hotel.

The gunmen agreed to end the stand-off after Turkish Interior Minister Sadettin Tantan held talks with them at the hotel, it was reported.

Police sources are quoted as saying that the gunmen included Muhammed Tokcan, a Turk of Chechen origin who hijacked a Turkish ferry in 1996, seizing more than 200 hostages.

They were all freed unharmed after four days.

Muhammed Tokcan
Muhammed Tokcan hijacked a Turkish ferry in 1996
Mr Tokcan was released from a Turkish prison late last year under a general amnesty.

In March, hijackers demanding an end to the war in Chechnya seized a Russian plane with more than 100 hostages and forced it to fly to Saudi Arabia.

The hostages were freed after Saudi commandos stormed the plane in Medina. A Russian flight attendant and a Turkish passenger were killed, along with one of the hijackers.

The Chechen struggle is popular in Turkey. Turks share the Islamic faith with Chechens, while almost five million Turks trace their roots to Caucasus areas such as Chechnya.

The Chechen rebels have been able to find much support within Turkey, primarily from the large number of Chechen emigres in the country.

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See also:

20 Apr 01 | Europe
UN condemns Russia over Chechnya
01 Oct 00 | Europe
Analysis: Chechnya one year on
29 Nov 00 | Europe
Eyewitness: Chechnya's bitter war
23 Apr 01 | Europe
Turkey hotel gunmen surrender
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