After three days of waiting to see what would happen next at the Moscow theater, Russian Special Forces ended the hostage standoff with a raid the likes of which not seen since Entebbe. At about 6:00 a.m. local time on Saturday members of the elite Spetnaz entered the building under cover of sleeping gas and small explosives. With a hail of gunfire the Chechen terrorists were dead and the hostage taking was over.
In the end, nearly 600 victims were freed, 117 were killed along with 50 Chechen hostage takers and 4 terrorists were taken into police custody. There is some controversy as to whether or not the sleeping gas used to incapacitate the female terrorists resulted in the death of some of the hostages. The answer will probably never be known. One thing is for sure, had the female terrorists been able to ignite the explosives strapped to their bodies the number of dead would have been enormous.
It is sad that any of the innocent victims had to die, but do not blame their liberators. Place the blame where it belongs, on the heads of the Chechens who put them in that situation. Let us not forget that several of the rescuers were also killed and wounded during the operation. They were merely doing their job in an extremely volatile situation. Try and imagine the planning and skill it took to carry out the rescue, it’s mind-boggling the expertise that is required.
A building the size of that theater, with all of its hiding places filled with hundreds of hostages and heavily armed terrorists who have placed explosives throughout is no walk in the park, to say the least. In the noise and confusion of a fire fight there is a lot of room for error, thankfully more hostages didn’t become casualties. To have lost only a little over 100 hostages, considering the numbers involved is in itself a testament to the ability of the Russian military.
I was there for two of the three days, doing what journalists do. Taking photos and interviewing people involved. At times I felt we reporters were vultures of sorts, flying from one desperate family member to the next, picking at the bones of their plight. Listening to the anguished stories of these people, who had a real stake in the outcome (the lives of loved ones) can make one wonder if our presence was more exploitation than professional duty. At the end of the day though, their stories needed to be told and we were the only ones capable of doing it. The following are some of the photos I took at various locations along the police barricade during those two days.
Day One: The police and military presence was strong, for obvious reasons. The members of the various units acted with professionalism in the face of huge crowds of on-lookers, hostage family members and the press. All the while maintaining the security of the perimeter.
Here are a couple of photos of relieved hostages as they were released to waiting family and security forces. In all more than 60 hostages were either released or escaped prior to the assault by the military.
Day Two: Onlookers and hostage’s families become more agitated at the apparent lack of action on the part of the Russian government to free the hostages. Many people hold signs containing words of encouragement for the hostages and advise for President Putin. Some showed up holding banners in support of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya, police quickly herded them off. Lists of names of released hostages also appear on the fence of the makeshift Red Cross HQ.
One woman in particular who was demanding to know why nothing was being done for the hostages was taken away by police after numerous attempts to calm her down.
The Red Cross and military brought in cases of bread, water, juice and cigarettes to the hostage takers as well as the hostages. This was an ongoing process as hundreds of people needed to be fed inside of the theater. Several hostages refused food and water because they would then have to use the orchestra pit as a toilet.
Family members of the hostages plead with Red Cross officials to end the siege. Photos of hostages being shown to the press by grieving family.
By day two, several priests had arrived on scene to offer prayers and comfort to victim’s families. A prayer service was held in front of the Red Cross HQ as icons were placed on the building’s fence.
David Misselt PRAVDA.Ru Trainee University of Wisconsin – River Falls
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