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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Eyewitnesses tell of hotel drama
Police officers stand guard in front of Swisshotel
Gunmen forced a woman to kneel at gunpoint
Dozens of fleeing guests and hostages have emerged from their luxury hotel with stories of terror.

People screamed and ran in panic as the gun-wielding rebels burst in late on Sunday night, firing into the ceiling.

As the gunmen swept through the lobby, some guests managed to flee; others hid in terror beneath tables.

A German businessman staying at the Swissotel said a gunman had held a gun to the head of the wife of a friend of his.


We saw a number of policemen running around with guns

Mike Roehe
"She was told to kneel down and a gun was pointed at her whilst her husband was already in one of the side exits waiting for her," said Mike Roehe.

"He was told by the personnel to move quickly out of the hotel but he refused to do so because he could see his wife being attacked by one of these terrorists.

"Then she managed to get up and move to the exit where her husband was waiting for her.

They were lucky to be released immediately afterwards together with 10 or 15 others."

Mr Roehe, who was in Istanbul for a conference, told the BBC's Today programme he had returned from a restaurant at 23.30 local time just after the hostages struck.


They were dressed in black and there were shots - I ran out immediately

Eyewitness
"We saw a number of policemen running around with guns," he said. We got out of the cab and we were told to move quickly away from the hotel."

Mr Roehe was taken to a nearby hotel to which some other guests had also been transferred.

Hotel worker Alisan Ercan said he heard shots and saw four or five gunmen in the lobby as he ran from the building. Hotel guests hid between tables in the lobby,

A man visiting guests in the hotel said: "They were dressed in black and there were shots. I ran out immediately."

Turkish police officer
Armed police were standing by
Dozens of people made it to safety by using the hotel's fire exits, including up to 60 guests.

Reports said others had stayed in their rooms, but were later rounded up by gunmen as they carried out systematic searches.

Some hostages were released before the siege ended, walking from the hotel into the arms of waiting police and security officials.

One group included three women, one of them holding a young child.

Another group of around nine emerged; then came the news that the gunmen had surrendered.

Air crews

The guests were from many countries, and as the drama ended, foreign embassies were still trying to trace exactly who was caught up in the siege.

Japanese and Austrian tourists were among the guests, along with air crews from Swissair and Cathay Pacific.

Briton Tony Early, from Epsom, Surrey, said his daughter Karen and a friend had been treated well, with food and water, and had been allowed to go to the toilet.

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See also:

23 Apr 01 | Europe
Hostage drama in Istanbul
23 Apr 01 | Europe
Profile: Istanbul gang's leader
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
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