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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 04:14 GMT 05:14 UK
Seven hostages freed in Moscow siege
The rebels (photo: NTV)
TV cameras were not allowed into the actual auditorium
A Chechen suicide squad holding hundreds of people hostage in a Moscow theatre released seven more hostages early on Friday.

A spokesman for the Federal Security Service, Sergei Ignatchenko, said one person was freed at 0530 (0130 GMT) and a further six, all apparently men, at 0630. It is thought they could be foreign nationals.

People are close to a nervous breakdown

Maria Shkolnikova
A spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB) said the rebels had agreed to release all 75 foreigners they are said to be holding.

The releases came shortly after the rebels allowed a television crew to meet their leader and some of the people being held inside for the first time.

The team from Russia's NTV channel arrived with a doctor who brought medicine for the hostages who are now into their third day of captivity, living in the auditorium on a diet of water and chocolate from the theatre buffet.

The rebels are threatening to blow themselves and the hostages up unless Russia withdraws its troops from Chechnya - they have killed one woman and wounded another as she escaped.

It is hard to continue sympathy [for Palestinian and Chechen militants] when these groups pull acts like this

President Vladimir Putin has said his main concern to save the lives of the hostages and the security forces have said they will not storm the building unless the rebels start killing their captives.

"People are close to a nervous breakdown," hostage Maria Shkolnikova told a Moscow radio station.

"The situation in the hall has become more aggressive. You can sense it in people's voices."

Click here for a map of the area

The rebels have refused to accept hot food offered by the Russian authorities and many of the hostages have reportedly been tied in their seats.

Jordanian doctors allowed to visit the hostages on Thursday said they included many children.

'Suicide fighters'

NTV's crew were shown into a theatre kitchen and not allowed into the auditorium.

They filmed men in masks and a veiled woman wearing what appeared to be explosives strapped to their chests with electric leads. The rebels were also armed with assault-rifles, grenades and pistols.

The theatre
Housed in a former cultural centre belonging to a ball-bearing factory on Melnikov Street
Producer says theatre can seat 1,163 people
Tickets sold for Wednesday's show: 711
Cast and crew: 85, with 50 theatre staff also present
Hostages believed to include 75 foreigners from UK, the US, Germany, Austria and Australia
Six of the hostages who were allowed to talk to them said they believed there were about 600 being held in all, divided by the rebels into groups.

The Russian journalists spoke to the rebel group's leader, Movsar Barayev, the only rebel who showed his face.

He reportedly told them he would release several children if the interview was broadcast on TV. Footage broadcast so far has been without the sound.

Doctor Leonid Roshal, who was allowed into the actual theatre, said most people were calm and he came across only one or two hysterical women.

Movsar Barayev, according to the Russian NTV channel
Movsar Barayev: Came to Moscow "to die"
Mr Barayev, nephew of a late Chechen warlord, has told the Chechen rebel news agency Kavkaz-Tsentr that his "suicide fighters" are prepared to die for Chechen independence.

The Arab satellite TV station al-Jazeera broadcast a tape on Thursday of what it said was one of the rebels stating that they were "ready to sacrifice for God and the independence of Chechnya".

First death

Two 18-year-old girls escaped from the theatre on Thursday but one was lightly injured by a grenade thrown after her by the rebels.

They managed to climb out of a window shortly after the body of another woman was brought out of the building.

Police in Moscow told the BBC they believed that the woman, in her 20s, was killed while trying to escape during the night and had had her wrists and fingers broken.

President Putin (R) meets top Russian Muslim official Ravil Gainutdin on Thursday
Putin has cancelled plans to meet George W Bush this weekend in Mexico
The rebels said they had killed an undercover woman FSB officer.

The rebels released about 200 hostages - children, Muslims, some foreigners and some people requiring health treatment in the hours after they invaded the theatre on Wednesday evening, in the middle of a sell-out musical.

Some 75 foreigners are reported to be inside the theatre.

Fresh attempts to negotiate an end to the crisis by Russian politicians and representatives of humanitarian groups came to nothing on Thursday.

The Russian authorities have reportedly told the rebels that they will guarantee them safe passage to another country if all the hostages are freed unharmed.

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The BBC's Jonathan Charles reports from Moscow
"Armed and willing to die for their cause"
The BBC's Steve Rosenberg
"They have threatened to blow the whole building up if their demands are not met"

Siege reports

Key stories

Chechen conflict



See also:

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24 Oct 02 | Europe
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