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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Theatre's night of terror
Armoured cars outside theatre
Witness: "There is a very large amount of explosives"
It was just after 9:00pm, and the first act was drawing to an end.

Hundreds of Moscow theatre-goers sat in the darkness, watching a production of the hit Russian musical North-East.

But behind the scenes, a frightening real-life drama was unfolding.


Please do not start storming. There are a lot of explosives. Don't open fire on them

Tatyana Solnyshkina
Minutes earlier, actor Konstantin Kabanov had seen masked men climb onto the stage.

He and five or six other actors beat a hasty retreat, escaping out of a third-floor window with the aid of a rope.

They escaped just in time.

One of the gunmen took centre stage during Act II, firing shots to the ceiling and shouting "Stop the war in Chechnya", according to eyewitness reports.

"He told all the actors to sit down on the front rows," said teenager Denis Afanasyev, who was subsequently released.

Boy outside theatre
Children and Muslims were freed from the theatre
"Then women and men came in with masks. Some women were strapped with explosives and they said they would blow up the whole building in 10 minutes if the police started to storm it."

The gunmen released up to 20 children immediately from among the audience, as well as some Muslims.

Further batches of hostages were released at intervals throughout the night.

Explosive threat

Members of the audience were allowed to use their mobile phones to call their families for a few hours after the gunmen seized the theatre.

One woman pleaded live on NTV television for the security forces not to storm the building.


For every one of them who is killed they will immediately shoot 10 of us

Tatyana Solnyshkina
"Please do not start storming. There are a lot of explosives. Don't open fire on them. I am very scared, I ask you please do not start attacking", said Tatyana Solnyshkina.

She said they were being treated very well, but their lives were at risk.

"The only condition they are setting is that for every one of them who is killed they will immediately shoot 10 of us.

The appeal was broken off when a gruff voice intervened, and the line went dead.

'Suicide troops'

An Interfax reporter attending the musical said the men claimed to have wired the building with explosives and were calling themselves "the suicide troops from the 29th Division."

Police marksmen took up position on roof tops and other vantage points overlooking the theatre, known as the former House of Culture, in Melnikov Street in south-east Moscow.

Radio Mayak quoted a source with the Moscow rescue services as saying that the gunmen had shot and thrown a grenade at a special forces group.

The special forces had managed to build a ladder outside the building to help rescue actors hiding in dressing rooms.

By 1:00am about 150 people had been released or escaped from the building, according to TVS television, citing Moscow police.

But more than 500 remained inside.


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19 Aug 02 | Europe
09 Sep 02 | Europe
27 Sep 02 | Europe
25 Jun 01 | Europe
18 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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