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Gas Seen as Fatal in Moscow Siege

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Gas seen as fatal in Moscow siege

NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES

MOSCOW, Oct. 27 — All but two of the 117 people killed amid an assault to end a hostage standoff were killed due to the effects of knockout gas, the head Moscow city doctor said Sunday. Russians sadly watched the death toll rise on Sunday as officials reported at least 650 hospitalized after a nightmare standoff with Chechen terrorists in a city theater ended with a siege by Russian troops.

THE INTERFAX news agency quoted Andrei Seltsovsky, chairman of the Moscow health committee, as saying that just one person had died from bullet wounds. It was the first time that a Russian official had identified the cause of death of most of the victims.

Asked what the others had died from, he said: “From the effects of the gas exposure.”

One man had been shot dead during the operation to free the captives. The second to die of gunshot wounds was a woman shot while trying to escape when the theatre was seized by around 50 Chechen guerrillas on Wednesday night.

An anesthesiologist, Yevgeny Yevdokimov, said that the fatal effects of the unspecified gasses were exacerbated by the weakened condition of the hostages, who had spent 58 hours in captivity under high stress and with little food or water, Interfax reported.

Of the 650 hospitalized hostages, 45 are reported to be in serious condition.

FEW OFFICIAL DETAILS

Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilyev said that a special gas was used to knock out everyone in the theater and allow the rescue operation to proceed.

But otherwise, officials refused to give any details on the mysterious substance. The Kremlin and medical experts were silent about a television report that Russian special forces who stormed the theatre in the early hours of Saturday had killed hostages when they used the sleep-inducing gas.

The unidentified chemical was so powerful that the Chechen suicide fighters who had been filmed during the siege toying with detonators attached to explosives strapped to their waists had no time to set them off.

There have been suggestions that the troops used nerve gas, and London-based security expert Michael Yardley said he believed the gas used was BZ, a colorless, odorless incapacitant with hallucinogenic properties first used by the United States in Vietnam.

He said the symptoms displayed by the hostages in Moscow — inability to walk, memory loss, fainting, heartbeat irregularities, sickness — all pointed to BZ. According to the U.S. army the side effects last 60 hours, Yardley said.

“The Russians wouldn’t want a big shout about it because it (BZ) is just the sort of stuff they are not supposed to have,” he said. “It’s not specifically banned, but ... it is in a sort of grey area.”

BITTER ODOR

Sergei, 36, who declined to give his family name, told Reuters after he was released from hospital that the gas had smelled slightly bitter. Chemical warfare experts say nerve gas often smells of bitter almonds.

Sergei was among the fortunate.

The key targets for the unidentified gas were almost 20 suicide attackers, Chechen women, who sat among the hostages wrapped in explosives, officials said. Had they detonated the charges, the toll of innocents would have been much higher, Vasilyev said.

The incapacitating agent seeped into the theater through the ventilation and sewage systems, immediately before soldiers from the Alpha anti-terrorist squad burst in, MSNBC.com has learned.

“A panic went up among us and people were screaming, ’Gas! gas!’ and, yes, there was shooting,” theatre director Georgi Vasilev, one of the hostages, told Reuters.

SEARCH FOR U.S. CITIZENS

U.S. consular officials were fanning out to Moscow hospitals on Sunday to search for Oklahoma resident Sandy Booker and two other American citizens caught up in the hostage drama, MSNBC.com’s Preston Mendenhall reported from Moscow. The consulate has been pressing the Russian authorities for more information on the whereabouts of the three, after being told that all foreign hostages were rescued.

MSNBC.com has learned that Booker’s fiancée, Kazakh citizen Svetlana Gubareva, is in stable condition in City Hospital No. 7. Kazakh officials say Gubareva is also searching for Booker, and has asked for her embassy’s help in locating him. A Kazakh official also confirmed for MSNBC.com that Gubareva’s daughter, 13-year-old Alexandra, died in a Moscow hospital after being rescued Saturday.

At least one other foreign citizen was confirmed to have died as a result of the siege. A Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that a naturalized Dutch citizen, Natalja Zjirov, was killed in the raid by inhaling sleeping gas.

PUTIN: ‘FORGIVE US’

The end came 58 hours after the gunmen stormed into the crowded theater during a performance of the popular musical “Nord-Ost,” vowing to die for Chechnya’s independence and threatening to kill their captives unless Moscow withdrew its troops from the war-ravaged region.

Russia “cannot be forced to its knees,” President Vladimir Putin declared afterward on national television.

But he acknowledged the cost to victims’ families: “We could not save everyone. Forgive us.”

LEAD REBEL KILLED IN RAID

Movsar Barayev, a young warlord who inherited a gang of rebels from his uncle, the infamous Arbi Barayev, was among those killed when Russian troops seized the building, officials said. Movsar Barayev allegedly acted as the lead hostage-taker.

Movsar Barayev, from video recorded early Friday by Russian broadcaster NTV.

Russian television footage from inside the theater showed the camouflage-clad body of Barayev, lying on his back amid blood and broken glass.

Government film of the aftermath showed dead female hostage-takers sitting in red plush theater seats, in black robes and veils, heads thrown back or bent over, indicating they may have been shot while unconscious. Precisely placed bullet holes could be seen in their heads. One wore a gas mask.

Besides the women’s explosives, the attackers had rigged other bombs throughout the hall, officials said.

“The use of special means” — the gas — “allowed the neutralization of the female terrorists who were wrapped in explosives and kept their fingers on the trigger,” Vasilyev said.

The captors had threatened to blow up the theater if their demands were not met.

Besides 50 Chechen assailants reported killed at the theater, officials said three other gunmen were captured, and authorities searched Moscow for accomplices and gunmen who may have escaped.

Some of the hostage-takers inside the theater were of Arab appearance, which a Russian security source said confirmed earlier Russian assertions that the group had foreign support for the attack.

“I can confirm that their bodies were among the dead,” the source told MSNBC.com on condition of anonymity.

Television footage showed that syringes were scattered in the litter surrounding the corpses of some gunmen. Vasilyev said puncture marks, possibly from drug injections, were found on some of the hostage-takers’ bodies.

RESCUE COMES AS DEADLINE PASSES

The rescue operation began about a half-hour after Russian officials said the rebels had killed two male captives and wounded a man and a woman as a deadline they had imposed approached for Putin to begin withdrawing Russian troops from Chechnya.

The rebels had vowed to begin executing hostages at dawn Saturday.

Mikhailov, the rescue worker, said he saw at least two dead hostages — a man and a woman — inside the theater. They had both been shot in the head, Mikhailov said, though it was unclear whether they had been executed by the hostage-takers or had been caught in the crossfire when Russian soldiers raided the building.

In addition to the eight children released Friday night, the gunmen freed 11 other people during the day. But their reported promises to free the estimated 75 foreigners were not fulfilled.

‘WE CAN’T HAVE ANY EUPHORIA’

“We can’t have any euphoria,” Vladimir Lukin, the deputy Parliament speaker, said after the raid. “I don’t think we have broken their [Chechen rebels’] will.”

Most surviving hostages were being kept from family members who gathered in freezing rain outside a hospital, and their conditions were not reported.

Despite the death toll, Olga Chernyak, a journalist caught in the hostage audience, said the operation was necessary. “We were all waiting to die. We understood that they would not let us out alive,” she said.

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Originally posted by t0nythelover

according to the bush logic since russia "gassed its own people" do we now have the right to invade russia, make a regime change and look for chemical weapons?

this is what i don't understand: how can the FSB or whoever use nerve gas on its own people? that's just fucked up, and then they go and apologize to the victims' families....jeez...is the world turning upside down ....

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Originally posted by sassa

this is what i don't understand: how can the FSB or whoever use nerve gas on its own people? that's just fucked up, and then they go and apologize to the victims' families....jeez...is the world turning upside down ....

I pretty much always expect this to happen, russia hasnt been known for having the best treatment of its people.

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Originally posted by t0nythelover

I pretty much always expect this to happen, russia hasnt been known for having the best treatment of its people.

yet, they can label these people as "terrorists" and get away with it, knowing fully well that russia was the one to initiate the war in the first place.

chechens just want to live in their land free from russian oppression...what is wrong with that.

media and politics are evil things...

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Originally posted by t0nythelover

according to the bush logic since russia "gassed its own people" do we now have the right to invade russia, make a regime change and look for chemical weapons?

Logic isn't your strong suit. They gassed the theater to save lives. As I said in another thread, I'll sacrifice 115 to save 600. The Chechens had the place rigged to blow it up and would have killed everyone if they had the chance.

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Originally posted by GrammarPolice

Logic isn't your strong suit. They gassed the theater to save lives. As I said in another thread, I'll sacrifice 115 to save 600. The Chechens had the place rigged to blow it up and would have killed everyone if they had the chance.

if you say so...

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Originally posted by GrammarPolice

Logic isn't your strong suit. They gassed the theater to save lives. As I said in another thread, I'll sacrifice 115 to save 600. The Chechens had the place rigged to blow it up and would have killed everyone if they had the chance.

I gotta agree here. They would have killed everybody if the Russians hadn't acted. Having said that, however, I also think the Russians could have handled the rescue operation faaarr better...at least warn the hospitals what tto expect!

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Kremlin stays mum on lethal gas

An unidentified couple hold candles Sunday outside the theater in downtown Moscow where last week's hostage crisis took place.

NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES

MOSCOW, Oct. 28 — The Kremlin stayed silent Monday about the composition of the mysterious gas that killed at least 116 people during the Russian military’s attempt to end a three-day hostage drama in a Moscow theater. At least 45 people were in critical condition and hundreds more remained hospitalized after the raid that followed a brazen seizure of a crowded theater by Chechen militants.

‘They poisoned us like cockroaches.’ — REPORTED COMMENT OF ONE HOSTAGE

In Kommersant newspaper under the headline, 'Overdose' PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN struck a defiant note Monday despite questions raised about the military’s tactic and the apparent lack of coordination with medical personnel, who were unable to properly treat the released hostages.

“Russia will make no deals with terrorists and will not give in to any blackmail,” he said.

The Russian leader also told Cabinet officials he would order the Russian general staff to change its guidelines on the use of military forces because of the growing threat of international terrorism and the possibility of them using weapons that could cause as much damage as weapons of mass destruction.

Putin has long tried to portray the Chechen conflict as a battle with international terrorists, partly in efforts to get broader support abroad.

WashPost: Rebels' tactic may have backfired

Putin’s announcement came as the government came under increasing criticism over the number of innocent people killed at the theater and the way they died: at the hands of Russian authorities trying to save them.

The incapacitating agent seeped into the theater through the ventilation and sewage systems immediately before soldiers from the Alpha anti-terrorist squad burst in, MSNBC.com has learned.

“A panic went up among us and people were screaming, ’Gas! gas!’ and, yes, there was shooting,” theater director Georgi Vasilev, one of the hostages, said.

All but two of the hostages succumbed to the troops’ mysterious knockout gas, doctors said. However, the substance remained secret even as doctors treated hundreds of survivors.

The official silence reinforced a long-standing image of Russian secrecy and disinformation.

Paul Beaver, of the London-based defense consultancy Ashbourne Beaver Associates, said the operation would be considered a success in military terms, defined as fewer than 30 percent casualties. But he said most military gases have antidotes and it may have been a flaw in planning if the attack was launched without making sure there was enough antidote to treat freed hostages.

The United States was making its own inquiries on Monday. “We have asked the Russians to help us understand what took place and asked them for information about the gas that was used,” a State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

FRUSTRATED DOCTORS

Three top Moscow doctors revealed Sunday that the gas killed innocent people inside the theater and they were unsure how to treat the estimated 750 people who had been trapped inside.

Authorities did not tell medical officials what type of gas they pumped into the theater, chief Moscow doctor Andrei Seltsovsky said.

Seltsovsky said doctors were familiar with the general category of the gas, which causes people to lose consciousness and can be used to anesthetize surgical patients, but were not told its name.

The gas can paralyze breathing, blood circulation, and cardiac and liver functioning, doctors said. The effects were worsened by the extreme conditions in which the hostages were confined for three days — little movement, lack of water, food and sleep, severe psychological stress — and by the chronic medical problems some suffered.

“In standard situations, the compound that was used on people does not act as aggressively as it turned out to do,” Seltsovsky said.

While the government focused on what it described as a successful rescue, Russia media were not as kind in their coverage.

“They poisoned us like cockroaches,” a woman quoted her daughter as saying in Kommersant daily, in a front-page spread under the headline “Overdose.”

But others said the government had no choice. “There were bombs everywhere — without gas what could they have done?” said former hostage Nikholai Zhizhen.

One doctor expressed frustration at the lack of information.

Bloody siege in Moscow

“I saw no gunshot wounds at all. Those who died had swallowed their vomit or their tongue or their hearts had stopped,” he told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

“If only we had known beforehand! If they had told us that we would be getting large numbers who had lost consciousness or heart failure, it might have been a bit different.”

Some experts suggested that the military used a form of BZ gas, which is not specifically prohibited by the Chemical Warfare Convention to which Russia, as well as the United States, are signatories.

405 STILL HOSPITALIZED

The Moscow Health Department said 405 former hostages, including nine children, remained hospitalized Monday after 239 were released. On Sunday, doctors had said 646 people remained hospitalized, 45 of them in very serious condition.

Those who were released from hospital flashed smiles at the crowd.

“When the gas came, I lost feeling in my body, I couldn’t move my fingers. I lay down on a red fur coat and after that I can’t remember,” said Andrei Naumov, 17. “When I awoke, I felt I was alive.”

Two foreign women, one Dutch and one Austrian, were known to have died, and officials in Kazakhstan said a 13-year-old girl from their country died — one of three children known to have perished.

There were about 800 people in the theater when it was seized by Chechen gunmen during Wednesday night’s performance of the popular Russian musical “Nord-Ost,” or “North-East.”

Anguished relatives crowded the gates of Moscow hospitals, begging for news of their kin, while others scoured the city morgues.

Tatiana Lukashova’s 26-year-old daughter, Masha Panova, was a hostage and now is missing.

Lukashova saw a broadcast on the ORT television station Saturday that showed her daughter lying on a mattress in a hospital corridor with an oxygen mask on.

“But we didn’t hear what hospital it was, and our search through all the hospitals was in vain,” Lukashova said in a telephone interview.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said, tears choking her voice. “Even the head of the district where we live went to meet officials of ORT to find out in which hospital they filmed the girl, but they told him they can’t tell without permission from prosecutors.”

She said she would visit all the Moscow morgues Monday “to at least exclude that she is there.”

A MISSING AMERICAN

Even diplomats had trouble finding information about the estimated 70 foreign citizens who were among the hostages. U.S. consular officials searched the city’s hospitals for one of two American citizens known to have been hostages.

Putin declared Monday a day of national mourning for the victims of the hostage crisis. Schools in Moscow were open Monday and started the day with a moment of silence, but many children’s activities were canceled.

Moscow officials said Monday that relatives of the dead would receive about $3,150 in compensation, while hostages who survived would get half that, Interfax reported. The city will pay for funerals, it said.

Officials said three gunmen were captured, and authorities searched the city for accomplices who may have escaped. The Federal Security Service said 50 assailants were killed at the theater, and several were shot in the head apparently as they lay incapacitated from the gas.

Some of the attackers who burst into the theater Wednesday night had explosives strapped to their bodies, and 18 were women who said they were widows of Chechens killed by Russian forces.

They mined the theater and threatened to blow it up unless Putin withdrew Russian troops from the rebellious, predominantly Muslim region of Chechnya.

CHECHEN QUAGMIRE

Russian forces pulled out of Chechnya in 1996 after a devastating war that left separatists in control. In the autumn of 1999, Putin sent troops back in after Chechnya-based rebels attacked a neighboring region and after apartment bombings that killed about 300 people were blamed on the militants.

In 1995 and 1996, rebels seized hundreds of hostages in two raids in southern Russia near Chechnya, and dozens of people died in both cases. Many of them were killed when Russian forces attacked the assailants.

Meanwhile, security remained tight in the capital and police arrested a Chechnya resident in downtown Moscow after finding an explosive substance on him and in his car, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported Monday. The man also had extremist Muslim literature, it said.

For their part, Chechen leaders — who accuse Russian forces of brutality away from the world’s gaze in their southern republic — offered again on Monday to sit down for talks, an offer the Russians have so far largely refused.

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