Hostages held by Moscow jail inmates freed

Inmates at a pretrial detention center in Moscow took the jail's chief and at least one other employee hostage Monday, but the captives were later released during an operation by law enforcement agents, an official said.

The chief spokesman for the agency that runs Russia's prisons and jails, Alexander Sidorov, said inmates at the facility in a southeastern Moscow neighborhood had taken its warden and another staff member hostage.

Shortly after an explosion and gunfire were heard at the jail hours later, Sidorov said that the hostages had been released and that there were no injuries. He said law enforcement agents had used "special effects" _ apparently meaning weapons of some kind _ but that he could not immediately provide details.

At one point during the incident, a man identified only as a jail employee told NTV television by phone that he was among 15 hostages. Sidorov criticized the report, claiming the speaker was a hostage-taker, not a hostage, but the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted him as saying after the hostages were released that they numbered 15.

Several hours after initial reports that hostages had been seized, an explosion and what sounded like automatic-weapons fire were heard. The ITAR-Tass news agency quoted the chief of the federal prison service, Yuri Kalinin, as saying the operation to release the hostages lasted about 90 seconds and was carried out by forces of the prison service.

NTV, citing unidentified officials, reported that five people had received knife wounds in the incident before the operation.

Sidorov said the number of hostage-takers was unclear, and that their demands were not known, but the RIA-Novosti news agency later quoted him as saying that the hostages had been seized by three inmates who were unhappy about sentences they received for serious crimes, including murder.

RIA-Novosti earlier cited unidentified law enforcement officials as saying about 40 inmates were taking part in a riot at the jail, but Sidorov denied there was a riot.

Authorities negotiated with the hostage-takers but reportedly warned they would take other measures if the talks failed, reports AP.