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Moscow theater hostage crisis

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The Moscow theater hostage crisis, also known as the 2002 Nord-Ost
Nord-Ost is a Russian musical theatre production that was composed by Aleksei Ivaschenko and Georgii Vasilyev, based on the novel The Two Captains by Veniamin Kaverin. It is a fictional story based around the historical events surrounding the discovery of the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago in 1913...

, was the seizure of the crowded Dubrovka Theater on 23 October 2002 by some 40 to 50 armed Chechens
Chechen people
Chechens constitute the largest native ethnic group originating in the North Caucasus region. They refer to themselves as Noxçi . Also known as Sadiks , Gargareans, Malkhs...

 who claimed allegiance to the Islamist militant separatist movement in Chechnya
Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria is the unrecognized secessionist government of Chechnya. The republic was proclaimed in late 1991 by Dzokhar Dudayev, and fought two devastating wars between separatists and the Russian Federation which denounced secession...

. They took 850 hostages and demanded the withdrawal of Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n forces from Chechnya
The Chechen Republic , commonly referred to as Chechnya , also spelled Chechnia or Chechenia, sometimes referred to as Ichkeria , is a federal subject of Russia . It is located in the southeastern part of Europe in the Northern Caucasus mountains. The capital of the republic is the city of Grozny...

 and an end to the Second Chechen War
Second Chechen War
The Second Chechen War, in a later phase better known as the War in the North Caucasus, was launched by the Russian Federation starting 26 August 1999, in response to the Invasion of Dagestan by the Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade ....

. The siege was officially led by Movsar Barayev
Movsar Barayev
Movsar Buharovich Barayev , earlier known as Suleimanov, was a Chechen and militia leader during the Second Chechen War, who led the seizure of a Moscow theater that led to the deaths of over 170 people.-Life:...

. After a two-and-a-half day siege, Russian Spetsnaz
Spetsnaz, Specnaz tr: Voyska specialnogo naznacheniya; ) is an umbrella term for any special forces in Russian, literally "force of special purpose"...

 forces pumped an unknown chemical agent
Moscow hostage crisis chemical agent
The chemical agent used in the Moscow theatre hostage crisis has never been definitively revealed by the Russian authorities, though many possible identities have been speculated...

 (thought to be fentanyl, or 3-methylfentanyl
3-Methylfentanyl is an opioid analgesic that is an analogue of fentanyl. 3-Methylfentanyl is one of the most potent drugs that has been widely sold on the black market, estimated to be between 400-6000 times stronger than morphine depending on which isomer is used .3-Methylfentanyl was first...

), into the building's ventilation
Mechanical ventilation
In medicine, mechanical ventilation is a method to mechanically assist or replace spontaneous breathing. This may involve a machine called a ventilator or the breathing may be assisted by a physician, respiratory therapist or other suitable person compressing a bag or set of bellows...

 system and raided it.

39 of the attackers were killed by Russian forces, along with at least 129 of the hostages (including nine foreigners). All but a few of the hostages who died during the siege were killed by the toxic substance pumped into the theater to subdue the militants. The use of the gas was widely condemned as heavy handed, but Moscow insisted it had little room for manoeuvre — faced with the prospect of 50 heavily armed rebels prepared to kill themselves and their hostages.
Physicians in Moscow condemned the refusal to disclose the identity of the gas that prevented them from saving more lives. However, some reports said the drug naloxone
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist drug developed by Sankyo in the 1960s. Naloxone is a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose, for example heroin or morphine overdose. Naloxone is specifically used to counteract life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory...

 was successfully used to save some hostages. Roughly 170 people died in all.

Hostage taking

The hostages were seized on October 23 at the House of Culture (DK) of State Ball-Bearing Plant Number 1 in the Dubrovka area of Moscow about four kilometres south-east of the Moscow Kremlin
Moscow Kremlin
The Moscow Kremlin , sometimes referred to as simply The Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River , Saint Basil's Cathedral and Red Square and the Alexander Garden...

. During Act II of a sold-out performance of Nord-Ost
Nord-Ost is a Russian musical theatre production that was composed by Aleksei Ivaschenko and Georgii Vasilyev, based on the novel The Two Captains by Veniamin Kaverin. It is a fictional story based around the historical events surrounding the discovery of the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago in 1913...

a little after 9:00 PM, some 40-50 heavily armed and masked men and women drove in a bus to the theater and entered the main hall firing assault rifle
Assault rifle
An assault rifle is a selective fire rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine. Assault rifles are the standard infantry weapons in most modern armies...

s in the air.

The black-and camouflage-clad Chechens
Chechen people
Chechens constitute the largest native ethnic group originating in the North Caucasus region. They refer to themselves as Noxçi . Also known as Sadiks , Gargareans, Malkhs...

 took approximately 850-900 people hostage, including members of the audience and performers, among them an MVD
Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs
The Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del is the interior ministry of Russia. Its predecessor was founded in 1802 by Alexander I in Imperial Russia...

 general. The reaction of spectators inside the theater to the news that the theater was under terrorist attack was not uniform: some people remained calm, some reacted hysterically, while others fainted. Some performers who had been resting backstage escaped through an open window and called police; in all, some 90 people managed to flee the building or hide.

The militant leader told the hostages that the attackers (who identified themselves as a suicide squad
Suicide attack
A suicide attack is a type of attack in which the attacker expects or intends to die in the process.- Historical :...

 from "the 29th Division") had no grudge against foreign nationals (about 75 in number from 14 countries, including Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

, United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

) and promised to release anyone who showed a foreign passport
A passport is a document, issued by a national government, which certifies, for the purpose of international travel, the identity and nationality of its holder. The elements of identity are name, date of birth, sex, and place of birth....

. The Russian negotiators, however, refused to accept this offer and instead insisted that everybody be released,
without any distinction between foreigners and Russians.


The gunmen were led by Movsar Barayev, nephew of slain Chechen rebel militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

 commander Arbi Barayev
Arbi Barayev
Arbi Alautdinovich Barayev , nicknamed "The Terminator", was a renegade Chechen warlord often accused of clandestine links with the Russian special services...

, and threatened to kill the hostages unless Russian forces were immediately and unconditionally withdrawn from Chechnya. They said the deadline
Time limit
A time limit or deadline is a narrow field of time, or particular point in time, by which an objective or task must be accomplished.In project management, deadlines are most often associated with milestone goals....

 was one week, after which they would start killing the hostages.

A videotape
A videotape is a recording of images and sounds on to magnetic tape as opposed to film stock or random access digital media. Videotapes are also used for storing scientific or medical data, such as the data produced by an electrocardiogram...

d statement was acquired by the media in which the gunmen declared their willingness to die for their cause. The statement contained the following text:

According to the Kremlin's aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky, "when they were told that the withdrawal of troops was unrealistic within the short period, that it was a very long process, the terrorists put forward the demand to withdraw Russian troops from anywhere in the Republic of Chechnya without specifying which area it was". The hostage-takers demanded termination of the use of artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 and air force
Air force
An air force, also known in some countries as an air army, is in the broadest sense, the national military organization that primarily conducts aerial warfare. More specifically, it is the branch of a nation's armed services that is responsible for aerial warfare as distinct from an army, navy or...

s in Chechnya starting the next day (Russian forces ceased using heavy weapons until September 28), a halt to the notorious zachistka ("mopping-up") operations, and that President of Russia Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin served as the second President of the Russian Federation and is the current Prime Minister of Russia, as well as chairman of United Russia and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus. He became acting President on 31 December 1999, when...

 should publicly declare that he was striving to stop the war in Chechnya. By the time of the hostage-taking, the conflict in the embattled republic was killing an average of three federal troops daily.

Cell phone conversations between the hostages trapped in the building and their family members revealed that the hostage-takers had grenades
Hand grenade
A hand grenade is any small bomb that can be thrown by hand. Hand grenades are classified into three categories, explosive grenades, chemical and gas grenades. Explosive grenades are the most commonly used in modern warfare, and are designed to detonate after impact or after a set amount of time...

, mines
Land mine
A land mine is usually a weight-triggered explosive device which is intended to damage a target—either human or inanimate—by means of a blast and/or fragment impact....

 and improvised explosive device
Improvised explosive device
An improvised explosive device , also known as a roadside bomb, is a homemade bomb constructed and deployed in ways other than in conventional military action...

s strapped to their bodies, and had deployed more explosives throughout the theater. A majority of these explosives (including all those worn by the female fighters) were later found to be military dummies. The remaining ones had no detonators or the batteries were taken out. Russian negotiators and special forces were unable to be certain at the time, but prior to the siege while the explosives were being prepared, an FSB agent who had infiltrated the Chechen Jihadist shipping network had sabotaged many of the devices with drained batteries and insufficient accelerator or booster charges for the main charges to detonate. The militants used Arabic names among themselves, and the female terrorists wore Arab-style burqa
A burqa is an enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic religion to cover their bodies in public places. The burqa is usually understood to be the woman's loose body-covering , plus the head-covering , plus the face-veil .-Etymology:A speculative and unattested etymology...

clothes which are highly unusual in the North Caucasus
North Caucasus
The North Caucasus is the northern part of the Caucasus region between the Black and Caspian Seas and within European Russia. The term is also used as a synonym for the North Caucasus economic region of Russia....


A spokesman for the Chechen separatist leadership said he had no information about who the attackers were and condemned attacks on civilians. The pro-Moscow Islamic leader of Chechnya also condemned the attack.

All hostages were kept in the auditorium
An auditorium is a room built to enable an audience to hear and watch performances at venues such as theatres. For movie theaters, the number of auditoriums is expressed as the number of screens.- Etymology :...

 and the orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...

 pit was used as a lavatory. The situation in the hall was nervous and it frequently changed depending on the mood of the hostage-takers, who were following reports in the mass media
Mass media
Mass media refers collectively to all media technologies which are intended to reach a large audience via mass communication. Broadcast media transmit their information electronically and comprise of television, film and radio, movies, CDs, DVDs and some other gadgets like cameras or video consoles...

. Any kind of misinformation
Misinformation is false or inaccurate information that is spread unintentionally. It is distinguished from disinformation by motive in that misinformation is simply erroneous, while disinformation, in contrast, is intended to mislead....

 caused hopelessness among the hostages and new aggression among their captors, who would threaten to shoot hostages and blow up the building; however, no major disasters took place during the duration of the siege. The gunmen had let members of the audience make phone calls. The hostages used their phones to plead the authorities to not storm the building, as truckloads of police and soldiers accompanied by armored vehicles surrounded the building.

23 October

The attackers released some 150 to 200 people, including children, pregnant
Pregnancy refers to the fertilization and development of one or more offspring, known as a fetus or embryo, in a woman's uterus. In a pregnancy, there can be multiple gestations, as in the case of twins or triplets...

 women, Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

s, some foreign-born theater-goers and people requiring health treatment in the hours after they invaded. Two women managed to escape (one of them was injured during the escape). The terrorists said they were ready to kill 10 hostages for any of their number killed if the security forces intervened.

A young woman, Olga Romanova (26), managed to make her way through the police cordon and enter the theater from outside. She confronted the terrorists and urged the hostages to stand up to their captors. The guerrillas decided she was a Federal Security Service (FSB) agent and led her away; she was shot and killed seconds later. Olga's body was later removed from the building by a Russian medical team, incorrectly reported by the Moscow police as the body of the first hostage who was killed while trying to escape.

24 October

The Russian government offered the hostage-takers the opportunity to leave for any third country. The suborned hostages made an appeal, possibly under orders or duress, to Putin to cease hostilities in Chechnya and asked him to refrain from assaulting the building. Because of the crisis, Putin canceled an overseas trip that would have included meetings with U.S. President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 and other world leaders.

Well-known public and political figures such as Aslambek Aslakhanov
Aslambek Aslakhanov
Aslambek Akhmedovich Aslakhanov is the State Duma deputy from Chechnya, advisor and former aide to Russian president Vladimir Putin.He is a retired General of the MVD.- External links :...

, Irina Khakamada, Ruslan Khasbulatov
Ruslan Khasbulatov
Ruslan Imranovich Khasbulatov is a Russian economist and politician of Chechen descent who played a central role in the events leading to the 1993 constitutional crisis in the Russian Federation.-Early life:...

, Iosif Kobzon, Boris Nemtsov
Boris Nemtsov
Boris Efimovich Nemtsov is a Russian politician who was Deputy Prime Minister of Russia from 1997 to 1998. He was a co-founder of the Russian political party Union of Right Forces and is an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin.-Early life:...

 and Grigory Yavlinsky took part in negotiations with the hostage-takers. Ex-President of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the last head of state of the USSR, having served from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991...

 also announced his willingness to act as an intermediary in the course of negotiations. Militants also demanded that representatives of the International Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières
Médecins Sans Frontières
' , or Doctors Without Borders, is a secular humanitarian-aid non-governmental organization best known for its projects in war-torn regions and developing countries facing endemic diseases. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland...

come to the theater to lead negotiations. FSB Colonel
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

 Konstantin Vasilyev attempted to enter the patio of the TC, but was shot at while approaching the building and forced to retreat.

According to the FSB, 39 hostages were set free by the terrorists on 24 October 2002, but they repeated via one of the hostages an earlier threat to start shooting their captives if Russia failed to take their demands seriously. Negotiations on the release of non-Russian nationals were conducted by various embassies and the Chechens promised to release all foreign hostages. The kidnappers claimed they were ready to release 50 Russian hostages if Akhmad Kadyrov
Akhmad Kadyrov
Hajji Akhmad Abdulkhamidovich Kadyrov , also spelled Akhmat, was the Chief Mufti of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in the 1990s during and after the First Chechen War...

, head of Chechnya's pro-Moscow administration, would come to the theater, but Kadyrov did not respond, and the release did not take place.

A hot water pipe had burst overnight and was flooding the ground floor. The hostage-takers called the flooding a "provocation" and no agreement had been reached on having the pipe repaired, the FSB spokesman said. It later turned out that the sewer system
Sanitary sewer
A sanitary sewer is a separate underground carriage system specifically for transporting sewage from houses and commercial buildings to treatment or disposal. Sanitary sewers serving industrial areas also carry industrial wastewater...

 was utilized by the Russian special forces for listening purposes.

25 October

Over the course of the next day, the following people took part in negotiations with the militants: journalists Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist, author, and human rights activist known for her opposition to the Chechen conflict and then-President of Russia Vladimir Putin...

, Sergei Govorukhin and Mark Franchetti
Mark Franchetti
Mark Franchetti is the Moscow-based journalist for The Sunday Times. Fluent in five languages, Franchetti was awarded the British Press Award in 2003, after reporting on the Moscow theatre siege, and a Foreign Press Association award in 2004 for his reports on the alleged abuse of Iraqi civilians...

 and such public figures as Yevgeny Primakov
Yevgeny Primakov
Yevgeny Maksimovich Primakov is a Russian politician and diplomat. During his long career, he served as the Russian Foreign Minister, Prime Minister of Russia, Speaker of the Soviet of the Union of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, and chief of intelligence service...

, Ruslan Aushev
Ruslan Aushev
Ruslan Sultanovich Aushev was the president of Ingushetia from March 1993 to December 2001. He was reportedly the youngest officer in the Soviet army to reach the rank of Lieutenant General. He received the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union on May 7, 1982...

 and again Aslambek Aslakhanov. The terrorists demanded negotiation with an official representative of Vladimir Putin. Relatives of the hostages staged anti-war demonstrations outside the theater and in central Moscow.

The guerrillas agreed to release 75 foreign citizens in the presence of diplomatic representatives of their states. Russian authorities reportedly insisted that the hostages not be separated into foreign and Russian categories. 15 Russian citizens were released, including eight children (aged 7 to 13). After a meeting with Putin, the FSB head Nikolai Patrushev offered to spare the lives of the Chechens if they released the remaining hostages unharmed.

A group of Russian doctors including Dr. Leonid Roshal
Leonid Roshal
Leonid Mikhailovich Roshal is a noted pediatrician from Moscow, Russia, expert for World Health Organization, chairman of International Charity Fund to Help Children in Disasters and Wars....

, head of the Medical Centre for Catastrophes, entered the theater to bring medicine for the hostages and said the terrorists were not beating or threatening their captives. He said most of the hostages were calm and that only "two or three" of the hostages were hysterical. Some hot food, warm clothes and medicine had also been taken in by the Red Cross.

NTV channel journalists recorded an interview with Movsar Barayev, in which he sent a message to the Russian government: "We have nothing to lose. We have already covered 2,000 kilometres by coming here. There is no way back... We have come to die. Our motto is freedom and paradise
Paradise is a place in which existence is positive, harmonious and timeless. It is conceptually a counter-image of the miseries of human civilization, and in paradise there is only peace, prosperity, and happiness. Paradise is a place of contentment, but it is not necessarily a land of luxury and...

. We already have freedom as we've come to Moscow. Now we want to be in paradise." He also said the group had come to Moscow not to kill the hostages or to fight with Russia's elite troops, as they had had enough fighting in Chechnya over the years: "We came here with a specific aim — to put an end to the war and that is it."

At 9:55 p.m., four hostages (citizens of Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan , officially the Republic of Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west, and Iran to...

) were released, bringing the total number of hostages that were set free on this day to 19. After dusk, a man identified as Gennady Vlakh ran across the square and managed to gain entry to the theater. He said that his son was among the hostages, but his son did not seem to be present and the man was led away and shot.

Around midnight, a gunfire incident took place as Denis Gribkov, a 30 year-old male hostage, ran over the backs of theater seats toward the female insurgents who were sitting next to a large improvised explosive device. A male hostage-taker shot at him and missed, but stray bullets hit and severely wounded Tamara Starkova and fatally wounded Pavel Zakharov, who were evacuated from the building soon after. Gribkov was removed from the auditorium and later found dead from gunshot wounds.

26 October

During the night, Akhmed Zakayev
Akhmed Zakayev
Akhmed Khalidovich Zakayev is the former Deputy Prime Minister and the current Prime Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria , which is unrecognised by other countries...

, a Chechen envoy and associate of the separatist President Aslan Maskhadov
Aslan Maskhadov
Aslan Aliyevich Maskhadov was a leader of the Chechen separatist movement and the third President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.He was credited by many with the Chechen victory in the First Chechen War, which allowed for the...

, appealed to the extremists and asked them to "refrain from rash steps". The hostage takers told the BBC that a special representative of President Putin planned to come to the theater for talks the next day. Two members of the Spetznaz Alpha Group
Alpha Group
The Alpha Group , is an elite component of Russia's Spetsnaz as well as the dedicated counter-terrorism unit of the Federal Security Service...

 moving around in the no-man's land were seriously wounded by a grenade fired from the building by the terrorists, which was blamed by the Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin on the media news leak
News leak
A news leak is a disclosure of embargoed information in advance of its official release, or the unsanctioned release of confidential information.-Types of news leaks:...


According to an officer in the Russian special forces cited by The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

, the leak was controlled: "We leaked the information that the storming would take place at three in the morning. The Chechen
Chechen people
Chechens constitute the largest native ethnic group originating in the North Caucasus region. They refer to themselves as Noxçi . Also known as Sadiks , Gargareans, Malkhs...

 fighters were on their guard. They began shooting, but there was no raid. Then there was the natural reaction — a relaxation. And at 5 a.m. we stormed the place."

Special forces raid

Early Saturday morning, 26 October, forces from Russia's Spetsnaz
Spetsnaz, Specnaz tr: Voyska specialnogo naznacheniya; ) is an umbrella term for any special forces in Russian, literally "force of special purpose"...

 (Special Forces, literally "special purpose") from the FSB (Alpha Group
Alpha Group
The Alpha Group , is an elite component of Russia's Spetsnaz as well as the dedicated counter-terrorism unit of the Federal Security Service...

 and Vympel
Vympel , also known as KGB Directorate "B" ,Vega Group or Spetsgruppa V, Group B is a Russian special forces unit....

), with the assistance of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs
Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs
The Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del is the interior ministry of Russia. Its predecessor was founded in 1802 by Alexander I in Imperial Russia...

The Special Rapid Response Unit or SOBR is an elite commando unit of the Russian Interior Ministry, involved in anti-criminal operations....

 unit, surrounded and stormed the theater, first through the gay club Central Station that had opened a month prior in the underground level of the building; all were heavily armed and masked. According to the November 2002 Kommersant
Kommersant is a commerce-oriented newspaper published in Russia. , the circulation was 131,000.- History :The newspaper was initially published in 1909, and it was closed down following the Bolshevik seizure of power and the introduction of censorship in 1917.In 1989, with the onset of press...

 report, the gay club housed the commandos' and special services' "headquarters" and had been equipped with "its own ventilation system (the club's special pride)".

Deputy Interior Minister
Interior minister
An interior ministry is a government ministry typically responsible for policing, national security, and immigration matters. The ministry is often headed by a minister of the interior or minister of home affairs...

 Vladimir Vasilyev stated that the raid was prompted by a panic among the captives due to the execution of two female hostages. The raid was planned shortly after the hostages were initially seized and the shooting cited as a proximate cause had occurred about three hours before the operation began.

Chemical attack

Early in the morning before dawn, at around 5:00 a.m. Moscow time, the searchlight
A searchlight is an apparatus that combines a bright light source with some form of curved reflector or other optics to project a powerful beam of light of approximately parallel rays in a particular direction, usually constructed so that it can be swiveled about.-Military use:The Royal Navy used...

s that had been illuminating the main entrance to the theater went out.

Inside, although many hostages at first took the gas to be smoke from a fire, it soon became apparent to gunmen and hostages alike that a mysterious gas had been pumped into the building. Different reports said it came either through the specially-created hole in the wall, that it was pumped through the theater's ventilation system, or that it emerged from beneath the stage. It is thought that the security services pumped an aerosol anaesthetic
Anesthesia, or anaesthesia , traditionally meant the condition of having sensation blocked or temporarily taken away...

, later conjectured to be weaponized fentanyl, into the theater through the air conditioning
Air conditioning
An air conditioner is a home appliance, system, or mechanism designed to dehumidify and extract heat from an area. The cooling is done using a simple refrigeration cycle...

 system. The discovery caused panic in the auditorium. Hostage Anna Andrianova, a correspondent for Moskovskaya Pravda
Moskovskaya Pravda
Moskovskaya pravda , is a leading daily morning newspaper of Russia, and formerly of the Soviet Union. It was first published in 1918....

, called Echo of Moscow
Echo of Moscow
Echo of Moscow is a Russian radio station based in Moscow, broadcasting in many Russian cities, in some of the former-Soviet republics , and via the Internet, which some observers describe as "the last bastion of free media in Russia"...

 radio studio and told on-air in a live broadcast
Live television
Live television refers to a television production broadcast in real-time, as events happen, in the present. From the early days of television until about 1958, live television was used heavily, except for filmed shows such as I Love Lucy and Gunsmoke. Video tape did not exist until 1957...

 interview that the government forces had begun an operation by pumping gas into the hall:


The Chechens, some of whom were equipped with gas mask
Gas mask
A gas mask is a mask put on over the face to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne pollutants and toxic gases. The mask forms a sealed cover over the nose and mouth, but may also cover the eyes and other vulnerable soft tissues of the face. Some gas masks are also respirators, though the word...

s, responded with firing blindly at the Russian positions outside. After thirty minutes, when the gas had taken effect, a physical assault on the building commenced. The combined forces entered through numerous building openings, including the roof, the basement, and finally the front door.

When the shooting began, the terrorists told their hostages to lean forward in the theater seats and cover their heads behind the seats. Hostages reported that some people in the audience fell asleep, and some of the gunmen put on respirator
A respirator is a device designed to protect the wearer from inhaling harmful dusts, fumes, vapors, or gases. Respirators come in a wide range of types and sizes used by the military, private industry, and the public...

s. As the terrorists and hostages alike began to fall unconscious, several of the female terrorists made a dash for the balcony but passed out before they reached the stairs. They were later found shot dead. Two of the Alpha Group
Alpha Group
The Alpha Group , is an elite component of Russia's Spetsnaz as well as the dedicated counter-terrorism unit of the Federal Security Service...

 assaulters were also overcome by the gas, while the SOBR
The Special Rapid Response Unit or SOBR is an elite commando unit of the Russian Interior Ministry, involved in anti-criminal operations....

 men were "floored". Even a vice-mayor
In many countries, a Mayor is the highest ranking officer in the municipal government of a town or a large urban city....

 of Moscow had to be treated for gas poisoning.

After nearly one and a half hours of sporadic gun battles, the Russian special forces blew open the doors to the main hall and poured into the auditorium. In a fierce firefight, the federals gunned down the guerrillas, both those still awake and those who had succumbed to the gas.

According to the Russian government, fighting between the troops and the still-conscious Chechen fighters continued in other parts of the building for another 30 minutes to one hour. Initial reports stated that three terrorists were captured alive (the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 reported that a "handful of surviving fighters were led away in handcuffs") and two of them managed to escape. Later, the government claimed that all hostage-takers had been killed in the storming. As of May 2007, 12 of the Moscow militants remained unaccounted for and their fate officially unknown.

Because the real action was invisible to the public, the operation was immediately (even as the rescue action was going on) re-enacted in the same building in order to be shown on Russian television. Alpha team troops said that "this is our first successful operation for years". Moskovskij Komsomolets cited a Russian special forces operative saying that "if it were a usual storming, we'd have had 150 casualties among our men, added to the hostages."


At 7:00 a.m., rescuers began carrying the bodies of hostages out of the building. Bodies were laid in rows on the foyer
A foyer or lobby is a large, vast room or complex of rooms adjacent to the auditorium...

 and the pavement at the main entrance to the TC, unprotected from falling rain and snow. None of the bodies witnessed by The Guardian correspondent had bullet wounds or showed signs of bleeding, but "their faces were waxy, white and drawn, their eyes open and blank." Shortly, the entire space was filled with bodies of the dead and those unconscious from the gas but still alive.

Few ambulance
An ambulance is a vehicle for transportation of sick or injured people to, from or between places of treatment for an illness or injury, and in some instances will also provide out of hospital medical care to the patient...

s were standing by and ordinary city buses were brought in. Medical workers were expecting to treat victims of explosions and gunfire but not a secret chemical agent. The drug naloxone
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist drug developed by Sankyo in the 1960s. Naloxone is a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose, for example heroin or morphine overdose. Naloxone is specifically used to counteract life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory...

 counteracts the chemical agent's effects, but would have to have been administered by rescue workers immediately. Some reports said the drug was used to save some hostages.

The bodies of dead hostages were stowed in two buses which were parked at the TC. Nevertheless, initial reports said nothing about casualties among the hostages. The crisis HQ representatives went to the college hall, where relatives of the hostages had been waiting, and told them that allegedly there were no fatalities among the hostages. The first official report of fatalities among the hostages came at about 9:00 a.m. (despite the death of five children which had been already reported by medical personnel, the official statement claimed there were no children among the dead).

At 1:00 p.m., Vasilyev announced at a press conference a "definitive" death toll of 67 hostages, who he said were killed by Chechens, but again said no children nor foreigners were among those killed. Armed guards were posted at the hospitals where victims were taken and doctors were ordered not to release any of the theater patient
A patient is any recipient of healthcare services. The patient is most often ill or injured and in need of treatment by a physician, advanced practice registered nurse, veterinarian, or other health care provider....

s in case militants had concealed themselves among the hostages. The survivors were cut off from any communication with the outside world and their relatives were not allowed inside the hospitals.

The hostages' family members panicked as the government refused to release any information about which hospitals their loved ones had been taken to, or even whether their relatives were among the dead. The official number of the dead rose to 90, including 25 children, while it was still claimed that the final attack was provoked by the terrorists executing their captives. Later the same day, the official death toll among hostages had risen to at least 118 and the officials had not specified exactly what killed them. By 28 October, of the 646 former hostages who remained hospitalized, 150 were still in intensive care and 45 were in critical condition.

Seventy-three hostages (including six minors) were rendered no medical aid. There were several Chechens among the hostages and it is believed that some of them were not treated because of their Chechen names. In addition, money and other valuables belonging to the victims vanished; official reports stated that the valuables were stolen by an FSB officer who was later killed in a car crash. The Russian authorities initially maintained that none of the deaths among the hostages occurred through poisoning. They spoke of health problems that were exacerbated by the three day ordeal with very little food or water, or indeed, medical attention. The office of the Kremlin's human rights commissioner Sergei Mironov said: "Even if it is proven that some people died from the gas, it should not change the public attitude. Storming the building was the only way to handle that situation, and the casualties were minimal."


At least 33 rebels and 129 hostages died during the raid or in the following days. Doctor Andrei Seltsovsky, Moscow's health committee chairman, announced that all but one of the hostages killed in the raid had died of the effects of the unknown gas rather than from gunshot wounds. The cause of death listed for all hostages was declared to be "terrorism", claiming they died from heart attacks or other physical ailments. Among the fatalities, 17 were Nord-Ost cast members, including two child actors. Of the foreign nationals, three were from Ukraine, one was American, and the others were citizens of Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

, Armenia
Armenia , officially the Republic of Armenia , is a landlocked mountainous country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia...

, Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

. About 700 surviving hostages were poisoned by gas, and some of them received injuries leading to disabilities
A disability may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental or some combination of these.Many people would rather be referred to as a person with a disability instead of handicapped...

 of the second and third class (by the Russian/ex-Soviet disability classification system; indicate medium- and maximum-severity and debilitation). Several Russian special forces operatives were also poisoned by the gas during the operation. According to court testimony from Prof. A. Vorobiev, Director of the Russian Academic Gemology Center, most, if not all, of the deaths were caused by suffocation when hostages collapsed on chairs with heads falling back or were transported and left lying on their backs by rescue workers; in such a position, tongue prolapse causes blockage of breathing venues. Thus, some of the casualties can be attributed to accident, but at least some to unprofessional rescue efforts. The terrorists were reportedly all shot to death while unconscious by the police during the first wave of assault on the building, which was evidenced by gunshot wounds in their heads, seen in initial unedited footage of the crisis.

Some estimates have put the civilian death toll at more than 200, with 204 names on one list. Some former hostages and relatives of the victims claim that the death toll
Death Toll
Death Toll is a 2008 action film starring DMX, Lou Diamond Phillips, Leila Arcieri and Keshia Knight Pulliam, written and produced by Daniel Garcia of the rap group Kane & Abel and directed by Phenomenon...

 from the chemical agent is being kept secret.


The Chechen radical militant groups the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment
Special Purpose Islamic Regiment
The Special Purpose Islamic Regiment , also known as the al-Jihad-Fisi-Sabililah Special Islamic Regiment, was a Chechen criminal organization loosely formed by renegade Chechen warlord Arbi Barayev in 1996...

 (SPIR), the International Islamic Peacekeeping Brigade
Islamic International Brigade
The Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade was the name of an international unit of Islamist mujahideen founded in 1998....

 (IIPB) and the Riyadus-Salikhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs
Riyadus-Salikhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs
Riyad-us Saliheen is the name of a small "martyr" force of Islamic suicide attackers. Its original leader was the Chechen separatist commander Shamil Basayev...

 took part in the operation. In 2003, the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 designated the three groups as terrorist organizations, describing them as violent, responsible for numerous acts of terrorism and with links to the al-Qaeda
Al-Qaeda is a global broad-based militant Islamist terrorist organization founded by Osama bin Laden sometime between August 1988 and late 1989. It operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless army and a radical Sunni Muslim movement calling for global Jihad...

 network. The same U.S. statement also reaffirmed Washington
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

's support for a political settlement to the Chechen conflict and urged Russia to pursue such a solution.

Military commander Shamil Basayev
Shamil Basayev
Shamil Salmanovich Basayev was a Chechen militant Islamist and a leader of the Chechen rebel movement.Starting as a field commander in the Transcaucasus, Basayev led guerrilla campaigns against the Russian troops for years, as well as launching mass-hostage takings of civilians, with his goal...

 posted a statement on his website claiming ultimate responsibility for the incident, resigning all official positions within the Chechen government and promising new attacks. He also apologized to Chechnya's elected President and separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov for not informing him of the planned raid and asked him for forgiveness. Basayev defended the hostage-taking for giving "all Russians a first-hand insight into all the charms of the war unleashed by Russia and take it back to where it originated from" and said that his next "main goal will be destroying the enemy and exacting maximum damage" and "the next time, those who come won't make any demands, won't take hostages." A series of suicide bombings aimed at civilian targets in Russia followed in 2003 and 2004.

The Russian government claimed that wiretap
Telephone tapping
Telephone tapping is the monitoring of telephone and Internet conversations by a third party, often by covert means. The wire tap received its name because, historically, the monitoring connection was an actual electrical tap on the telephone line...

ped phone conversations prove that Maskhadov knew of the plans in advance, which he denied. Aslan Maskhadov and his representatives in the West condemned the attack which they said had nothing to do with official policy. Maskhadov said he felt responsible for those "who resorted to self-sacrifice in despair", but also said the "barbaric and inhumane policies" of the Russian leadership were ultimately to blame and criticised the storming of the theatre. He offered to start unconditional peace talks with the Russian government to find a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya.

While the siege was seen as a public relations
Public relations
Public relations is the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc....

 disaster for Maskhadov, his more radical Islamic field commanders have correspondingly benefited. Some commentators have suggested that Movladi Udugov
Movladi Udugov
Movladi Saidarbievich Udugov was the First Deputy Prime Minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria...

 was in charge from behind the scenes. Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer
Pavel Felgenhauer
Pavel E. Felgenhauer is a Russian journalist. He is known for his publications critical of Russia's political and military elite.-Biography:...

 has suggested that the aim of the extremist leaders seemed to have been to provoke the Russian government forces "to kill ethnic Russians in Moscow on a large scale", which happened. According to the report by Russian investigators, Zura Barayeva
Zura Barayeva
Zura Barayeva was the widow of Arbi Barayev, a notorious Chechen warlord. She was killed during the Moscow theater hostage crisis in October 2002, in which she headed a female unit.A former hostage described her:...

, the widow of Arbi Barayev, led the female members of the group, while a man known as Yasir, identified by his documents as Idris Alkhazurov, was said to be the group's "ideologist" believed to be trained in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

. Russian officials said Chechen militants received financing from groups based in Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

 and that they intercepted telephone calls from the captors to unidentified embassies in Moscow, as well as to Turkey and unidentified Arab states. There was also one foreign (Arab) fighter among the Chechens.


After the raid, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said that "the operation was carried out brilliantly by special forces"; he claimed he had wanted a negotiated end to the crisis, but the final attack was made necessary by the reported killing of hostages. The Russian presidential special envoy for human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

 in Chechnya, Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, said the bloody outcome was "a good lesson to the terrorists and their accomplices."

Deputy Interior Minister Vasilyev launched a Moscow-wide operation to catch anyone who may have helped the militants, while his boss, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov
Boris Gryzlov
Boris Vyacheslavovich Gryzlov , is a Russian politician and current Speaker of Russia's State Duma . He is one of the leaders of the largest Russian political party, United Russia...

, urged people to be vigilant and to report anyone acting suspiciously to police. On 29 October, Vasilyev said he only had the authority to state that special chemical agents had been used and that some 30 suspected militants and their collaborators, including several civil servants and security officers, had been arrested around the theater and in other parts of the city in what Gryzlov called an "unprecedented operation" to identify what he described as a vast terrorist network in Moscow and the surrounding region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the scale and violence of the assault in a televised address later on the morning of 26 October, stating that the government had "achieved the near impossible, saving hundreds, hundreds of people" and that the rescue "proved it is impossible to bring Russia to its knees".
Putin thanked the special forces as well as the Russian citizens for their "bravery" and the international community
International community
The international community is a term used in international relations to refer to all peoples, cultures and governments of the world or to a group of them. The term is used to imply the existence of common duties and obligations between them...

 for the support given against the "common enemy". He also asked forgiveness for not being able to save more of the hostages, and declared Monday a national day of mourning
National day of mourning
A national day of mourning is a day marked by mourning and memorial activities observed among the majority of a country's populace. They are designated by that nation's government...

 for those who died. He vowed to continue fighting "international terrorism".

On 29 October, Putin released another televised statement, saying: "Russia will respond with measures that are adequate to the threat to the Russian Federation, striking on all the places where the terrorists themselves, the organizers of these crimes and their ideological and financial inspirers are. I stress, wherever they may be located." It was commonly assumed Putin was threatening the former Soviet Republic of Georgia
Georgia (country)
Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

. Putin's comments came as British Prime Minister
Prime minister
A prime minister is the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government in a parliamentary system. In many systems, the prime minister selects and may dismiss other members of the cabinet, and allocates posts to members within the government. In most systems, the prime...

 Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

 phoned him to congratulate him on the ending of the siege.

President Putin was unhappy with the coverage of the hostage crisis by NTV, the last nationwide TV channel effectively independent of the government. In January of 2003 the management of NTV was replaced, resulting in a profound effect on its editorial policy.

Long-term consequences

The attacks prompted Putin's government to tighten Russia's grip on Chechnya. On 28 October, two days after the crisis, he announced that unspecified "measures adequate to the threat" would henceforth be taken in response to terrorist activity, with reports of 30 fighters killed near the Chechen capital Grozny
Grozny is the capital city of the Chechen Republic, Russia. The city lies on the Sunzha River. According to the preliminary results of the 2010 Census, the city had a population of 271,596; up from 210,720 recorded in the 2002 Census. but still only about two-thirds of 399,688 recorded in the 1989...

. The Russian Ministry of Defence
Russian Ministry of Defence
The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation exercises operational leadership of the armed forces of Russia.The Russian Minister of Defence is the nominal commander of all the armed forces, serving under the president of the Russian Federation, in whom executive authority over the military is...

 canceled plans to reduce the 80,000 troop presence in the tiny breakaway republic.

In early November, Defence Minister
Defence minister
A defence minister is a person in a cabinet position in charge of a Ministry of Defence, which regulates the armed forces in some sovereign nations...

 Sergei Ivanov
Sergei Ivanov
Sergei Borisovich Ivanov is a Russian senior official and statesman. He was Minister of Defence from March 2001 to February 2007, Deputy Prime Minister from November 2005 to February 2007, and the First Deputy Prime Minister from February 2007 to May 2008...

 announced Russian troops had launched large-scale operations against separatists throughout Chechnya. The actions of the military caused a new wave of refugee
A refugee is a person who outside her country of origin or habitual residence because she has suffered persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or because she is a member of a persecuted 'social group'. Such a person may be referred to as an 'asylum seeker' until...

s, according to the pro-Moscow Chechen official and the hostage crisis negotiator Aslanbek Aslakhanov.

On 29 May 2008, the European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is a supra-national court established by the European Convention on Human Rights and hears complaints that a contracting state has violated the human rights enshrined in the Convention and its protocols. Complaints can be brought by individuals or...

 (ECHR) unanimously condemned Russia for enforced disappearances in five cases from Chechnya, including the disappearance of two young women in Ulus-Kert (the prosecutor's office initially stated to media that Aminat Dugayeva and Kurbika Zinabdiyeva had been arrested on suspicion of involvement with the Moscow siege).

President Maskhadov's unconditional offer for peace talks with Russia was dismissed, as Russian Foreign Minister
Foreign minister
A Minister of Foreign Affairs, or foreign minister, is a cabinet minister who helps form the foreign policy of a sovereign state. The foreign minister is often regarded as the most senior ministerial position below that of the head of government . It is often granted to the deputy prime minister in...

 Sergei Lavrov compared such calls with the suggestion that Europe should conduct such talks with the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was the founder of the militant Islamist organization Al-Qaeda, the jihadist organization responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States and numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets...

. Russia also accused Akhmed Zakayev of involvement in the attack. When he visited Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 for a peace congress in October 2002 (the World Chechen Congress event in Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...

), the Russians demanded his arrest and extradition
Extradition is the official process whereby one nation or state surrenders a suspected or convicted criminal to another nation or state. Between nation states, extradition is regulated by treaties...

; Zakayev was held for over a month, but was released after Danish authorities stated they were not convinced that sufficient evidence had been provided. The Kremlin also accused the Danish authorities of "solidarity with terrorists" by allowing the meeting of about 100 Chechens, Russian human rights activists and lawmakers from Russia and other European countries to gather and discuss ways to end the fighting.

In early November, the Russian Duma
A Duma is any of various representative assemblies in modern Russia and Russian history. The State Duma in the Russian Empire and Russian Federation corresponds to the lower house of the parliament. Simply it is a form of Russian governmental institution, that was formed during the reign of the...

 approved a broad array of anti-terrorism legislation
Legislation is law which has been promulgated by a legislature or other governing body, or the process of making it...

 ranging from far-reaching restrictions on media coverage of terrorism-related incidents to secret burials for slain terrorists (one lawmaker proposed wrapping terrorists' corpses in pigskin and another suggested "carting them around the city with their legs dangling"). The new media law severely restricted the media's reporting of anti-terrorist operations, banning publication or broadcast of "any statement that hinders an operation to break such a siege, or attempts to justify the aims of the hostage-takers". These new policies prompted renewed fears in Russia that Putin was systematically taking control of all Russian media. Sergei Yushenkov
Sergei Yushenkov
Sergei Yushenkov was a liberal Russian politician well known for his uncompromising struggle for democracy, rapid free market economic reforms, and higher human rights standards in Russia...

, whose Liberal Russia party voted against the change, was quoted by Reuters
Reuters is a news agency headquartered in New York City. Until 2008 the Reuters news agency formed part of a British independent company, Reuters Group plc, which was also a provider of financial market data...

 as saying: "On a wave of emotion, we have in fact legitimised censorship
thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

 and practically banned criticism
Criticism is the judgement of the merits and faults of the work or actions of an individual or group by another . To criticize does not necessarily imply to find fault, but the word is often taken to mean the simple expression of an objection against prejudice, or a disapproval.Another meaning of...

 of the authorities in emergency
An emergency is a situation that poses an immediate risk to health, life, property or environment. Most emergencies require urgent intervention to prevent a worsening of the situation, although in some situations, mitigation may not be possible and agencies may only be able to offer palliative...

 situations." Coverage of Chechnya had already been severely restricted, needing the cooperation of both the Russian military and the Moscow-backed Chechen administration (see Russian government censorship of Chechnya coverage
Russian government censorship of Chechnya coverage
Since the start of the Second Chechen War in 1999, Russian federal authorities are alleged to have implemented a plan to use legal and extralegal methods to limit media access to the conflict region.-Chechen conflict:...

). A law by which corpses of people convicted or accused of terrorism would not be released to their families, but disposed of in secret was approved, applying to the bodies of the militants killed in the Moscow crisis, and later applying even to President Maskhadov, who was killed in 2005.

In 2003, Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. Its headquarters are in New York City and it has offices in Berlin, Beirut, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo,...

 reported Chechens in Moscow were subjected to increased police harassment
Harassment covers a wide range of behaviors of an offensive nature. It is commonly understood as behaviour intended to disturb or upset, and it is characteristically repetitive. In the legal sense, it is intentional behaviour which is found threatening or disturbing...

 after the hostage crisis. Moscow's Chechens swelled in numbers from about 20,000 in the Soviet period to an estimated 80,000 in 2002.

Many in the Russian press and in the international media warned that the death of so many hostages in the special forces' rescue operation would severely damage President Putin's popularity. However, shortly after the siege had ended, the Russian president was enjoying record public approval ratings–in December 2002, 83% of Russians reportedly declared themselves satisfied with Putin's rule and his handling of the siege.


The official investigation that the Moscow City Prosecutor's Office has been carrying out for three and a half years failed to provide positive information on the gas agent that killed hostages, possible antidote to that agent, the number of hostages released by the operation, the number of militants who had seized the theater (hostages claimed that they saw more than 50 militants, whereas only 40 hostage takers were in the building according to the official version), and the names of officials who had made the decision about the assault. On 1 June 2007, news came that the official investigation had been suspended. The reason provided was that the "culprit had not been located".

The same month, Tatiana Karpova, co-chair of the Nord-Ost Organization of former hostages and families of the dead, demanded a new criminal investigation. She claimed the authorities failed to meet their obligations related to right to life. She claimed to have proof that "69 of the injured were given no medical care" and that "80 percent of the surviving hostages are potential future invalids, including [possible] future (occurrence of) cancers, (and there is a possibility that) women who were subjected to the gas attack (could) give birth to defective babies". In July 2007, relatives of those who died in the hostage-taking urged the Office of the Prosecutor General of Russia
Prosecutor General of Russia
The Prosecutor General of Russia heads the system of official prosecution in courts known as the Office of the Prosecutor General of Russian Federation ....

 to investigate whether senior officials were responsible for the deaths.

Claims of FSB Involvement

The Duma refused to consider a proposal by the liberal democratic
Liberal democracy
Liberal democracy, also known as constitutional democracy, is a common form of representative democracy. According to the principles of liberal democracy, elections should be free and fair, and the political process should be competitive...

 Union of Right Forces
Union of Right Forces
The Union of Right Forces, or SPS , was a Russian democratic opposition party associated with free market reforms, privatization, and the legacy of the 'Young Reformers' of the 1990s: Anatoly Chubais, Boris Nemtsov, and Yegor Gaidar. Nikita Belykh was the last party's leader...

 party to form an investigative commission charged with probing the government's actions in the theater siege.

An independent investigation of the event was undertaken by Russian politicians Sergei Yushenkov, Sergei Kovalev
Sergei Kovalev
Sergei Kovalev is a Russian human rights activist and politician and a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner.- Early career and arrest :...

, journalist Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist, author, and human rights activist known for her opposition to the Chechen conflict and then-President of Russia Vladimir Putin...

, Hoover Institute scholar John B. Dunlop, and former FSB officers Aleksander Litvinenko and Mikhail Trepashkin
Mikhail Trepashkin
Mikhail Ivanovich Trepashkin, is a Moscow attorney and former FSB colonel who was invited by MP Sergei Kovalev to assist in an independent inquiry of the Russian apartment bombings in September 1999 – the atrocities that followed Dagestan war and were one of the triggers for the Second Chechen...

. According to their version, FSB knew about the terrorist group's arrival in Moscow and directed them to the theater through their agent provocateur
Agent provocateur
Traditionally, an agent provocateur is a person employed by the police or other entity to act undercover to entice or provoke another person to commit an illegal act...

 Khanpasha Terkibayev ("Abu Bakar"), whose name was in list of hostage takers and who left the theater alive. In April 2003 Litvinenko gave information about Terkibayev ("the Terkibayev file") to Sergei Yushenkov when he visited London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. Yushenkov passed this file to Politkovskaya and she was able to interview Terkibayev in person. A few days later, Yushenkov was assassinated by gunfire in Moscow. Terkibayev was later killed in an apparent car crash in Chechnya.

In June 2003, Litvinenko stated in an interview with the Australian television programme Dateline, that two of the Chechen militants involved in the siege—whom he named "Abdul the Bloody" and "Abu Bakar"—were working for the FSB, and that the agency manipulated the terrorists into staging the attack. Litvinenko said: "[w]hen they tried to find [Abdul the Bloody and Abu Bakar] among the rotting corpses of dead terrorists, they weren't there. The FSB got its agents out. So the FSB agents among Chechens organized the whole thing on FSB orders, and those agents were released". "Abu Bakar" (presumably Terkibayev) was also described as FSB agent and actual organizer of the theater siege by Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist, author, and human rights activist known for her opposition to the Chechen conflict and then-President of Russia Vladimir Putin...

, Alexander Khinshtein
Alexander Khinshtein
Alexander Khinshtein is a Russian politician and journalist. He is a member of United Russia. He currently represents the 122nd elective district in the State Duma....

 and other journalists.

Moscow lawsuit and the European Court complaint

After the siege, 61 former hostages started seeking compensation
In law, damages is an award, typically of money, to be paid to a person as compensation for loss or injury; grammatically, it is a singular noun, not plural.- Compensatory damages :...

 for physical and emotional suffering totalling almost $60m from Moscow city authorities (according to Russia's then-new anti-terrorism law, the region where an act of terror occurs should pay compensation for moral and material damages). Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov's office denounced the suits, saying it could not be held responsible as "the Chechen issue and its consequences are not within the jurisdiction of the Moscow authorities in any way." The Moscow administration earlier agreed to pay 50,000 roubles ($1,570) in compensation to each former hostage and 100,000 roubles ($3,140) to relatives of those killed. In all but one of the cases, Moscow city courts rejected the compensation claims.

In July 2003, 80 plaintiffs from Russia, Ukraine, the Netherlands and Kazakhstan turned to the European Court for Human Rights, claiming that their right to life had been violated by Russia authorities' handling of the standoff. In April 2007, Igor Trunov, the claimants' advocate, reported that the ECHR had finally begun hearings into a complaint filed in 2003 by the victims against the Russian government. Trunov added that not only Russian citizens, but also those from Ukraine, the Netherlands and Kazakhstan, filed complaints in the Strasbourg
Strasbourg is the capital and principal city of the Alsace region in eastern France and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Located close to the border with Germany, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin département. The city and the region of Alsace are historically German-speaking,...

 Court. The plaintiffs demand €50,000 each in compensation for the violation of their human rights. The case was accepted by the court in December 2007.

On July 8, 2008, The Moscow Times
The Moscow Times
The Moscow Times is an English-language daily newspaper published in Moscow, Russia since 1992. The circulation in 2008 stood at 35,000 copies and the newspaper is typically given out for free at places English-language "expats" attend, including hotels, cafés and restaurants, as well as by...

reported that the hearings at the European Court for Human Rights will be closed to the public at the request of Russian authorities as, according to Igor Trunov, they "have promised full disclosure on how they handled the crisis", including "the makeup of the knockout gas used in the storming of the theater by commandos."

The chemical agent mystery

It was reported that efforts to treat victims were complicated because the Russian government refused to inform doctors what type of gas had been used. In the records of the official investigation, the agent is referred to as a "gaseous substance". In other cases it is referred to as an "unidentified chemical substance". Based on the gas' effects and examinations of victims, it appears to have been an FSB-made aerosol version of 3-methylfentanyl
3-Methylfentanyl is an opioid analgesic that is an analogue of fentanyl. 3-Methylfentanyl is one of the most potent drugs that has been widely sold on the black market, estimated to be between 400-6000 times stronger than morphine depending on which isomer is used .3-Methylfentanyl was first...

, an artificial, powerful opium
Opium is the dried latex obtained from the opium poppy . Opium contains up to 12% morphine, an alkaloid, which is frequently processed chemically to produce heroin for the illegal drug trade. The latex also includes codeine and non-narcotic alkaloids such as papaverine, thebaine and noscapine...

-like substance. Government officials still treat its contents as a state secret
State Secret
State Secret is a 1950 British drama film directed by Sidney Gilliat and starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Jack Hawkins, Glynis Johns and Herbert Lom. It was released in the United States under the title The Great Manhunt.-Cast:...


The Russian Federation, as a member-state of the Chemical Weapons Convention
Chemical Weapons Convention
The Chemical Weapons Convention is an arms control agreement which outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. Its full name is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction...

, undertook "never and under no circumstances to carry out any activities prohibited to member-states of this Convention" to develop, to accumulate, to stockpile and to use chemical weapons that can cause death, temporary incapacitation, or permanent harm to humans or animals. The Convention obliges the states to fulfill the conditions of toxic chemicals' use that allow to exclude or considerably reduce the degree of injury and gravity of consequences. However, during the special operation in Dubrovka this provision was disregarded, i.e. neither the type, nor the quantity of the chemical agent helped to attain the set purpose—to neutralize the terrorists so as to rescue the hostages.
(The Convention allows the use of some chemical agents like tear gas for "law enforcement including domestic riot control
Riot control
Riot control refers to the measures used by police, military, or other security forces to control, disperse, and arrest civilians who are involved in a riot, demonstration, or protest. Law enforcement officers or soldiers have long used non-lethal weapons such as batons and whips to disperse crowds...

", but requires that "riot control agents" have effects that "disappear within a short time following termination of exposure.")

International reaction

In unanimously adopting Resolution 1440
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1440
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1440, adopted unanimously on October 24, 2002, after reaffirming the principles of the United Nations Charter and Resolution 1373 , the Council condemned the hostage-taking at a theatre in Moscow, Russia, by Chechen militants.The Security Council...

 (2002), the United Nations Security Council
United Nations Security Council
The United Nations Security Council is one of the principal organs of the United Nations and is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. Its powers, outlined in the United Nations Charter, include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of...

 condemned the "heinous" act and demanded the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages. The Council also demanded immediate and unconditional release of all hostages of that terrorist act and expressed the deepest sympathy and condolences to the people and the government of the Russian Federation and to the victims of the terrorist attack and their families. In addition, the Council urged all states to cooperate with the Russian Federation authorities in their efforts to find and bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of that terrorist attack.

In a statement read on Iraqi state television, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti was the fifth President of Iraq, serving in this capacity from 16 July 1979 until 9 April 2003...

 said the hostage-taking would eventually benefit the United States and Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 in undermining Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

: "It's not wise for the Chechens to lose the sympathy of Russia and the Russian people. The tyrant
A tyrant was originally one who illegally seized and controlled a governmental power in a polis. Tyrants were a group of individuals who took over many Greek poleis during the uprising of the middle classes in the sixth and seventh centuries BC, ousting the aristocratic governments.Plato and...

 of our era is Zionism
Zionism is a Jewish political movement that, in its broadest sense, has supported the self-determination of the Jewish people in a sovereign Jewish national homeland. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Zionist movement continues primarily to advocate on behalf of the Jewish state...

 and America, and not Russia, China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 or India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...


British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly backed the Russian action, arguing the Russian authorities had needed to act when the Chechens "started to kill the hostages." In his speech for the Parliament
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

, Blair linked the Moscow siege to the wider war on terrorism and such events as the 2002 Bali bombings.

U.S. President George W. Bush felt "very strongly that the people to blame here are the terrorists. The people who caused this tragedy to take place are terrorists who took hostages and endangered the lives of others," the White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

's spokesman, Ari Fleischer
Ari Fleischer
On May 19, 2003, he announced that he would resign during the summer, citing a desire to spend more time with his wife and to work in the private sector...

, told reporters aboard Air Force One
Air Force One
Air Force One is the official air traffic control call sign of any United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States. In common parlance the term refers to those Air Force aircraft whose primary mission is to transport the president; however, any U.S. Air Force aircraft...


In popular culture

A documentary by the BBC's Horizon in 2004 investigated the gas that was pumped into the theater.

In 2003, HBO broadcast Terror In Moscow, a documentary directed by Dan Reed. Interviews with hostages and footage taken inside and outside of the theater during the crisis are shown in the documentary.

In September 2006, In Your Hands, a play based on the events of the Moscow theatre siege, written by Natalia Pelevine
Natalia Pelevine
Natalia Pelevine is a British-Russian playwright, political activist and blogger. Natalia is of Russian and Polish descent. She was born on November 2, 1977 in Moscow, Russia and moved to England as a child. Natalia went to a private school, Southbank International. She then received BA in Art...

, opened in London at the New End Theatre
New End Theatre
The New End Theatre, Hampstead, was a 80-seat fringe theatre venue in London, England, located in the London Borough of Camden which operated from 1974 until 2011. It was listed widely on the internet, including with the New York Times....

. In April 2008 Pelevine said that Russian authorities have banned the play following its Russian debut in the city of Makhachkala
-Twin towns/sister cities:Makhachkala is twinned with: Sfax, Tunisia Siping, China Spokane, United States Vladikavkaz, Russia Yalova, Turkey Ndola, Zambia-See also:*...

, the capital of Dagestan
The Republic of Dagestan is a federal subject of Russia, located in the North Caucasus region. Its capital and the largest city is Makhachkala, located at the center of Dagestan on the Caspian Sea...

 near Chechnya. Another play, We Declare You a Terrorist by Tim J. Lord, about the incident will premiere at the 2009 Summer Play Festival
Summer Play Festival
The Summer Play Festival is an annual four-week festival that stages new plays and musicals by emerging writers during the summer months in New York City founded by Broadway producer Arielle Tepper Madover. The first Summer Play Festival was presented in 2004. A year later in 2005, The Living...

The crisis was also featured as a 45-minute episode of Situation Critical
Situation Critical
Critical Situation is an American documentary television series. Produced in conjunction with the National Geographic Channel, the series examines various disasters or violent incidents. It replaced Seconds From Disaster, a similar program with a more forensic approach...

(a National Geographic Channel
National Geographic Channel
National Geographic Channel, also commercially abbreviated and trademarked as Nat Geo, is a subscription television channel that airs non-fiction television programs produced by the National Geographic Society. Like History and the Discovery Channel, the channel features documentaries with factual...

In film, television programming and staged theatre, docudrama is a documentary-style genre that features dramatized re-enactments of actual historical events. As a neologism, the term is often confused with docufiction....

 television series), which contained actual video footage from the crisis along with a reenactment.

See also

  • Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis
    Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis
    The Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis took place from 14 June to 19 June 1995, when a group of 80 to 200 Chechen terrorists led by Shamil Basayev attacked the southern Russian city of Budyonnovsk , some north of the border with the Russian republic of Chechnya...

     (June 1995)
  • Kizlyar-Pervomayskoye hostage crisis
    Kizlyar-Pervomayskoye hostage crisis
    Rebel fighters led by Raduyev then entered the town itself, where they took 2,000 to 3,400hostages and held them at a local hospital, a nearby high-rise building and a bridge...

     (January 1996)
  • Russian apartment bombings
    Russian apartment bombings
    The Russian apartment bombings were a series of explosions that hit four apartment blocks in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk in September 1999, killing 293 people and injuring 651. The explosions occurred in Buynaksk on 4 September, Moscow on 9 and 13 September, and...

     (September 1999)
  • Beslan school hostage crisis
    Beslan school hostage crisis
    The Beslan school hostage crisis of early September 2004 was a three-day hostage-taking of over 1,100 people which ended in the deaths of over 380...

     (September 2004)
  • List of hostage crises
  • Second Chechen War crimes and terrorism
    Second Chechen War crimes and terrorism
    The article details notable human rights violations committed by the warring sides of the ongoing second war in Chechnya. Russian officials and Chechen rebels have been regularly and repeatedly accused of committing various war crimes, including kidnapping, torture, murder, hostage taking, looting,...

Further reading

External links

  • Nord-Ost. Memorial Book of Lost Hostages. Above site in English, winner of 2007 'Golden Site' award.
  • In quotes: Moscow hostage crisis, BBC News
    BBC News
    BBC News is the department of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs. The department is the world's largest broadcast news organisation and generates about 120 hours of radio and television output each day, as well as online...

    , 25 October 2002
  • Moscow hostage crisis: timeline, BBC News
    BBC News
    BBC News is the department of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs. The department is the world's largest broadcast news organisation and generates about 120 hours of radio and television output each day, as well as online...

    , 26 October 2002
  • The Hostage Crisis From Start to Finish, The Moscow Times
    The Moscow Times
    The Moscow Times is an English-language daily newspaper published in Moscow, Russia since 1992. The circulation in 2008 stood at 35,000 copies and the newspaper is typically given out for free at places English-language "expats" attend, including hotels, cafés and restaurants, as well as by...

    , 28 October 2002
  • Moscow theatre siege, The Guardian
    The Guardian
    The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

    , 28 October 2002
  • Theater of War, TIME special report, 28 October 2002
  • Moscow theatre siege, BBC News
    BBC News
    BBC News is the department of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs. The department is the world's largest broadcast news organisation and generates about 120 hours of radio and television output each day, as well as online...

    , 4 November 2002
  • Terror In Moscow
  • The October 2002 Moscow Hostage-Taking Incident, Radio Free Europe
    Radio Free Europe
    Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is a broadcaster funded by the U.S. Congress that provides news, information, and analysis to countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East "where the free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed"...

    , 18 December 2003 (Parts 2 and 3)
  • The Moscow Theatre Siege - transcript, BBC
    The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

    , 15 January 2004
  • Chechen rebels' hostage history, BBC News
    BBC News
    BBC News is the department of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs. The department is the world's largest broadcast news organisation and generates about 120 hours of radio and television output each day, as well as online...

    , 1 September 2004