- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

MOSCOW President Vladimir Putin pledged yesterday that Russia would not surrender to terrorist "blackmail" as he led a national day of mourning for the 118 hostages who died during a standoff with Chechen separatists.
Using words similar to those of President Bush after the September 11 attacks, Mr. Putin vowed in televised comments to give the military broader powers to move against terrorism suspects and their sponsors.
"Russia will answer with measures adequate to the threat to the Russian Federation in all places where the terrorists, the organizers of these crimes or their ideological or financial sponsors are located," Mr. Putin said. "I emphasize wherever they may be."
Relatives and friends grieved for the 118 captives who died in the siege at a theater here, all but two from the gas used to rescue them.
U.S. diplomats located a body believed to be that of an American citizen who died during the hostage taking, one of two Americans in the theater when Chechen rebels stormed it on Wednesday during a performance.
Mr. Putin said that the theater raid had been planned abroad, and the Russian Foreign Ministry contended, without offering evidence, that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network was involved.
Officials said 405 of the freed captives remained hospitalized, 45 of them in grave condition. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko said that 239 persons had been released. Two foreign women one Dutch, one Austrian and a 13-year-old girl from Kazakhstan also were known to have died.
Russian medical officials said that 116 of the hostages held by the Chechen rebels had succumbed to the paralyzing gas, whose exact composition remained a secret even to medical personnel treating the victims.
Russian authorities provided the U.S. Embassy with some information about the effects of the gas but did not name the agent.
U.S. officials identified it as an opiate related to morphine. Such substances not only kill pain and dull the senses, but also can cause coma and death by shutting down breathing and circulation.
The gas pumped into the building may have been a banned substance under an international convention on chemical weapons, arousing questions among members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague.
The OPCW was established in 1997 to rid the world of chemical weapons and their production facilities. Under its rules, the agency could be asked by any of its 147 members to probe what gas was used in the theater.
In Germany, a physician treating two freed hostages said that doctors would try to determine, through blood and urine tests, particulars of the gas. It did not appear to be a known chemical agent, he added.
"It remains a puzzle," said Thomas Zilker, a toxicology professor at Munich University clinic.
The Bush administration did not criticize Russian special forces for using the gas.
"The president abhors the loss of life, but he understands that it is the terrorists" who are responsible for the tragedy, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said as the president traveled to New Mexico.
Russian officials said that 50 rebels were killed during the storming of the building early Saturday. Many of the insurgents were women who contended they were Chechen war widows.
As pressure grew on Russian authorities to identify the gas used, some lawmakers and commentators criticized the government.
Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces party, said that the authorities failed to treat the hostages promptly after pumping the gas into the theater.
"Why after special services brilliantly carried out the operation were there not enough ambulances, doctors and intensive care equipment? Why was medical aid not given on the spot?" he said on Russian television, referring to many victims being carried and dragged out of the building and put on buses to nearby hospitals.
At a hospital a crowd of relatives waited. Every time guards opened the gates the crowd rushed to the entrance.
"I don't like to complain, I know that we were lucky," said Valery Yegorov, waiting with a bouquet of yellow flowers to visit his daughter.

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