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Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 13:24 GMT
Chechens 'planned to wreck theatre'
Bombs left by the Chechen guerrillas
Bombs were displayed after the siege ended
Chechen rebels who held hundreds of people hostage in a Moscow theatre had enough explosives to blow the building to pieces, Russian officials have said.

The authorities have released more details on how the theatre had been filled with the equivalent of more than 110 kilograms (242lb) of TNT.


The way in which the devices had been prepared was extremely professional

Colonel Vladimir Yeremin
Russian Security Service
Russian authorities have been criticised after 115 hostages died when special forces stormed the theatre, flooding it with what they say was an opium-based gas.

In Chechnya, Russian troops are pressing ahead with a military crackdown on rebels, surrounding refugee camps along the border.

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg, in Moscow, said the press conference at which the details on the explosives emerged was an attempt by the Russian authorities to put the record straight.

Instead, our correspondent says, more questions were raised than answered.

Expert preparation

Colonel Vladimir Yeremin, deputy head of the Russian Federal Security Service's crime detection institute, said there were bombs packed with ball bearings, booby traps, hand grenades, even a homemade rocket launcher, as well as plastic explosives strapped to the waists of armed Chechen women.

He said the largest bomb on its own - containing about 20 kilograms of TNT - would have been enough to have killed everyone in the theatre.

There were more than 25 other bombs, he said.

"The way in which the devices had been prepared was extremely professional," he said.

"All this shows that the people who did all this were extremely well trained, as were the people who carried it out."

However, our correspondent says there was no explanation for why the hostage takers had failed to detonate any of their bombs.

Neither was there any information about where the weapons had come from.

Kremlin adviser Sergei Yastrzhembsky left no doubt about the prospects for peace in Chechnya.

He said he did not know a single Chechen leader with whom Moscow could negotiate.

He said that Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov had been behind the hostage taking.

More than 700 people were trapped in the theatre when rebels took it over last week demanding Russia end its war in Chechnya.

More than 180 people are still being treated in hospital from the after-effects of the gas.

Digging in

Russian troops are digging in around Sleptsovsk and other refugee camps along Chechnya's border with the republic of Ingushetia.

The operation follows clashes in the area between the army and Chechen fighters.

The BBC Jonathan Charles, at the border, says the Russians want to keep much tighter control over the camps in the aftermath of the Moscow siege.

But the thousands of refugees at Sleptsovsk camp say they fear the Russians are about to carry out mass arrests.

Russia is currently pressing Denmark to extradite Akhmed Zakayev, a senior official of the ousted Chechen Government detained in Copenhagen, whom it suspects of involvement in the hostage-taking.

Denmark says it wants more evidence from Russia before it will agree to hand over Mr Zakayev, a senior envoy of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Richard Slee reports from Moscow
"There are still many unanswered questions"
Carlotta Gall, author and journalist
"Putin is doing something very strong to be seen as active and strong-minded"

Siege reports

Key stories

Chechen conflict

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31 Oct 02 | Europe
30 Oct 02 | Health
30 Oct 02 | Europe
30 Oct 02 | Media reports
30 Oct 02 | Europe
31 Oct 02 | Health
31 Oct 02 | Health
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