- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

MOSCOW The body of a young woman shot by Chechen rebels was dragged from a Moscow theater yesterday while two other captives raced to freedom under fire as insurgents holding hundreds threatened to kill themselves and their hostages if the Russian army does not pull out of Chechnya.
Forty rebels, including women who contended they were widows of ethnic insurgents, stormed the theater at 9:05 p.m. on Wednesday just before the second act of a popular musical. The woman, shot in the chest, was the only known fatality of the hostage taking.
Relatives and friends stood in freezing weather outside the theater in a rundown southeast neighborhood 3 miles from the Kremlin, their dread matching the grimness of the scene and the desperation of the estimated 600 captives inside. Special-forces troops moved in formation around the building and armored vehicles stood ready. Snipers were on rooftops.
Sergei Ignatchenko of the Federal Security Service said that there were 75 foreign hostages in the theater. U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said that three Americans were among them.
In televised remarks, President Vladimir Putin said that the hostage taking was one of the biggest terror attacks in history and had been organized "in one of the foreign terrorist centers" that "made a plan and found the perpetrators." But he did not provide any evidence to support his assertions.
The dramatic hostage taking was a heavy blow to Mr. Putin, who repeatedly has said that the situation in Chechnya, a mainly Muslim republic in southern Russia, is under control.
He canceled a trip to Mexico to attend a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation where he was to to meet President Bush.
Five hostages were released yesterday afternoon after negotiations between two Russian lawmakers and the rebels, raising hopes for a peaceful end to the crisis.
But the optimism was dashed shortly afterward when the body of the dead woman was dragged out of the theater by medics, and rebels fired off two rounds from rocket-propelled grenade launchers at the two other young women who jumped from windows of the theater and escaped.
Mr. Ignatchenko said 39 hostages had been released. Some audience members and many in the cast were able to flee in the early moments of the crisis, including a group whose members said that they tied costumes together and climbed from a third-floor dressing room window.
The foreign hostages also include Britons, Dutch, Australians, Austrians and Germans. A British hostage, appearing ill, was freed yesterday afternoon and hospitalized.
In a broadcast monitored in Cairo, Qatar-based satellite TV channel Al Jazeera transmitted statements by some of the hostage takers who said that thousands of their comrades stood ready to die for the Chechen cause.
"I swear by God we are more keen on dying than you are keen on living," a black-clad male said in the videotaped broadcast. "Each one of us is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of God and the independence of Chechnya."
An employee said that the tape had been delivered to Qatar from Al Jazeera's Moscow bureau yesterday morning. It apparently was made Wednesday before the theater takeover.
A Chechen rebel Web site said the hostage takers were led by Movsar Barayev, the nephew of warlord Arbi Barayev, who is reported to have died last year.
Security was increased at airports, railway stations and subway stations across Russia. Police and security forces were on high alert throughout the capital, with extra security around power plants.

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