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Saturday, 26 October, 2002, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Russian forces storm siege theatre
Freed hostage helped from building
The hostages were freed after a shoot-out
Russian security forces have brought a sudden and dramatic end to the three-day siege in a Moscow theatre, where hundreds of people were being held hostage by Chechen rebels.

We succeeded in preventing mass deaths

Vladimir Vasilyev, Russian Deputy Interior Minister
The head of the Russian security service, Nikolai Patrushev, said 34 Chechen rebels were killed in the raid and a number of others were arrested. He said none had escaped.

But 67 hostages were also killed during the rescue operation, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilyev has acknowledged. He said more than 750 had been saved.

Earlier reports suggested that no more than 10 of the hostages had died.

Nearly 350 people were taken to hospital, many in a serious condition, the French news agency AFP quoted medical sources as saying.

Most of the casualties were suffering from severe gas poisoning.

Troops had released sleeping gas into the theatre to subdue the rebels before they stormed the complex at about 0600 local time (0200 GMT).

Movsar Barayev
Barayev was killed in the gun battle
The rebel leader, Movsar Barayev, was among those who died in a fierce gun battle between the rebels and hundreds of the heavily-armed special forces.

The BBC's Jonathan Charles, who is at the scene, says this was not a planned operation but one which was triggered by events.

Reports say Russian President Vladimir Putin was only informed of the operation after it began.

Mr Putin later visited some of the survivors in hospital.

Booby traps

The rescue operation began when some of the hostages tried to escape after the rebels shot two of their captives and injured at least two others.

Unidentified Chechen rebel (left) being led away by Russian special forces agent
The rebels had threatened to blow up the theatre
In the ensuing panic, the hostages inadvertently set off booby traps laid in the theatre by the rebels.

Russian special forces then rushed to their aid, engaging in a pitched gun battle which lasted more than an hour.

About two hours later, the Russian television channel ORT showed pictures of the theatre strewn with bodies, some severely mutilated, others with their heads down as if they had passed out.

Officials said none of the special forces had been killed or injured in the operation.

"We succeeded in preventing mass deaths and the collapse of the building which we had been threatened with," said Russian Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilyev.

Our correspondent said the hostages looked shocked and terrified as they emerged.

A number of hostages were brought out unconscious, ORT reported.

For some time after securing the theatre, troops searched the extensive building for any remaining attackers and explosives.

Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzov said about 30 accomplices of the rebels had been arrested in the Moscow area.

Sleeping gas

At least 20 ambulances were seen carrying casualties away from the scene.

Medics carry an unidentified casualty on a stretcher
Some of the hostages were brought out unconscious
Forty-two survivors were taken to Moscow's Sklifosovsky hospital suffering the effects of poison gas, said doctor Vladimir Ryabinin.

Their condition was described as poor.

The Russian authorities have not released any details of which gas was used.

The assault came three days after the Chechens seized control of the Palace of Culture theatre, about 4 kilometres (2.7 miles) south-east of the Kremlin.

Hundreds of Russians and foreigners were inside the theatre, watching a performance of the popular musical Nord-Ost.

The rebels threatened to shoot the audience and blow up the building if Russian security forces intervened.

They demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and an end to the war there.

On Friday, the rebels released 19 hostages, but negotiations to release others broke down.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"A dramatic end to two days of terror"
British ambassador Sir Rod Lyne
"We've been told that none of the foreign hostages were killed"
Duncan March, Hostile Environments Expert
"It seems odd that none of the explosives went off"

Siege reports

Key stories

Chechen conflict



See also:

26 Oct 02 | Europe
26 Oct 02 | Europe
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