- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

You want a chilling, unnerving brush with terrorism in the raw? Tune in to HBO at 7 tonight for “Terror in Moscow.” The date was chosen for a reason. One year ago on a drizzly Wednesday night, Chechen terrorists took more than 700 people hostage in a Moscow theater, demanding an end to Russia’s war against their homeland. Never before has a terrorist act been so fully and dramatically documented while it was in progress: The theater management recorded each performance as a matter of course.

The theater is big and modern and looks comfortable. The audience, comprising families with children, couples and singles, is watching the end of the first act of a merry military comedy with a group of soldiers kicking up their heels in good Russian style. The curtain goes up on the second act. Soldiers are dancing away again when a lithe young man in military camouflage, an automatic rifle in hand, marches onstage. He speaks. The dancers stop and scatter off into the wings.

The young man, Movsar Barayev, announces that he and his fellow Chechens have sealed the building and are holding the audience hostage until the Kremlin meets their demands. Nineteen Chechen women, heavily draped in modest Muslim garments, take their places here and there among the audience members, who are paralyzed with fear; they can do no more than clutch at one another.

The women, at their leader’s order, pull up their outer coverings to reveal bulky belts holding explosives around their waists. At a given order or any untoward action on the part of the hostages, they will blow up themselves and everyone else.

As the siege wears on, some of the audience members begin to doubt that the Chechen women — educated; Westernized; many with husbands, brothers and fathers killed by Russians — are so eager to send themselves to Allah’s arms. Some are seen weeping. As one of the Russians said afterward, “They were afraid to lose their lives, just like everyone else.”

From time to time the camera cuts away to the outside of the theater, with heavily armed Russian special units ringing the building and sealing off the surrounding streets. Survivors appear on-screen to give their impressions of the night. Recordings from cell phones that night are heard.

Small, weird things occur, all captured on video. A young woman, identified as a shop assistant, apparently drunk or very reckless, breaks through the police cordon and goes inside to taunt the Chechens, encouraging the audience to rise up against its captors. Two Chechens firmly escort her outside the hall. A few minutes later, a shot is heard. As one of the interviewees says, they all realized at that point how helpless they were.

A woman who was sitting with her husband and 13-year-old daughter is hit in the chest by a stray bullet. The Chechens call for an ambulance to take the woman away; they don’t want the Russian forces outside to think they have started to shoot the hostages. The woman pleads for her daughter to be allowed to come with her, to no avail.

Early Saturday morning, Russian troops finally make their move, releasing a powerful anesthetic gas into the theater, rendering terrorists and hostages unconscious. You see the shadowy cloud slowly enveloping the audience. The Russians charge in, executing every Chechen, including the 19 unconscious women.

Then, the ultimate horror: Because the Russians had neither enough antidotes to the gas nor enough medical personnel on hand, 129 Russians died flat on their backs on the wet sidewalk outside the theater or in underprepared hospitals, choking on their own tongues or their vomit. The wounded Russian woman lost both husband and daughter to the gas, as she tells the camera with infinite pain.

Each of director-producer Dan Reed’s admirably selected survivors contributes a telling detail to complete the story. Mr. Reed has done a fine piece of work bringing a harrowing experience to the screen.

“Terror in Moscow” has all the power, suspense and excitement of a top-flight large-screen action movie but leaves you with the kind of horrified chill that only the harshest reality can generate.

WHAT: “Terror in Moscow,” directed and produced by Dan Reed, an America Undercover documentary special

WHEN: 7 tonight, 10 a.m. Oct. 31, 3: p.m. Nov. 3 and 9

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