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Gas killed all 115 hostages in raid

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- All 115 hostages killed in the raid that ended a Moscow theater standoff died of health problems stemming from the gas used to end the siege, Moscow's chief doctor said Sunday.

The doctor said two other hostages were killed by their captors before the raid -- a woman shot by captors on the first day of the standoff and a man shot just before Russian forces stormed the theater.

A group of Chechen rebels held about 800 hostages for 58 hours, demanding an end to the Russian war in Chechnya, before Russian forces stormed the theater early Saturday.

Russian forces sent the gas into the theater just before the raid, which "allowed us to neutralize, among others, those women kamikazes who were literally encased in explosives with their fingers on the detonators," Russia's deputy interior minister Vladimir Vasilyev said.

The gas caused intense drowsiness, according to the released hostages.

"When the raid started, they let the gas out," one former hostage said. "People were fainting. No one could even think straight."

Russian authorities have not released the name of the gas used, but medical officials say it is a drugging agent used for anesthesia before surgery. The gas can cause complications with lung, heart, liver, and kidney functions, medical officials said.

The people in the theater were already weakened from lack of movement, exhaustion and hunger, making them more susceptible to those complications, medical officials said.

Six hundred forty-six hostages remained hospitalized Sunday. Of those, 160 are in intensive care and 45 are listed in critical condition.

Russian forces "managed to do the impossible -- that is to save lives of hundreds," Russian president Vladimir Putin said in an address on Russian national television. "We have proven that Russia will not fall to its knees."

Fifty captors died, including 32 men and 18 women, Russia's Interfax news agency reported. The leader of the rebel group, a man in his mid-20s identified as Movsar Barayev, was among the dead. (Profile)

Putin also acknowledged the deaths of hostages.

"Please forgive us," Putin said. "The memories of the victims must unite all of us."

The Russian leader declared Monday a national day of mourning for the victims of the "tragic consequences of the terrorist act in Moscow," according to Interfax news agency.

'A lot of blood'

Details of the run-up to the special forces bursting into the theatre became clearer on Sunday.

A reporter for the Interfax news agency, Olga Chernyak, who was among the hostages, said: "I lost consciousness and woke up in the emergency room," she said, but she insisted the operation was necessary.

"We were all waiting to die. We understood that they would not let us out alive," Interfax quoted her as saying.

"They (Chechen rebels) killed two hostages before our eyes, a woman and a man. They shot the man in the eye, there was a lot of blood."

But she went on to say that the two hostages were killed in response to a young boy having a tantrum and running for the exit.

"He dashed towards the exit, shouting: 'Mummy, I don't know what to do.' They opened fire on him, but missed and hit seated people instead," she told Russian television from her hospital bed late on Saturday.

Putin called the operation on the theatre part of the international fight against terrorism.

A senior envoy to Chechnya's rebel president on Saturday condemned the siege.

Akhmed Zakayev, an envoy of elected Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, told Reuters: "We cannot come down to the level of our opponents, targeting innocent people," alluding to alleged human rights abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya.

The audience had arrived at the theatre to see "Nord Ost," a popular production of a classic Russian musical, when the rebels suddenly took over the building during the second act last Wednesday evening.

Russian forces withdrew from Chechnya after a 1994-96 war but they returned in 1999 and have since occupied most Chechen territory.

Moscow blames Chechen militants, who say they are fighting for independence, for a series of bombings in Russia that killed more than 300 people.

sad world

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