- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

MOSCOW (AP) - Russian security forces killed a masked gunman who seized five hostages at a Siberian bank Friday and the captives escaped unharmed, officials said.

A man entered a branch of Ursa Bank in the city of Leninsk-Kuznetsky and took five employees hostage, according to police in central Siberia’s Kemerovo province. Investigators said he was armed with a handgun and a grenade.

About four hours later, Kemerovo Gov. Aman Tuleyev said special police had killed the hostage-taker during an operation set in motion while he and the regional police chief held on-and-off negotiations with the assailant.

“They eliminated him _ exactly five minutes ago,” Tuleyev said on state-run Vesti-24 television. He said the hostages had emerged unharmed, including two women _ one of them reportedly pregnant _ who had earlier escaped through a window.

One woman was later hospitalized with heart trouble, Russian news agencies reported.

Tuleyev said the assailant had made various demands, including money and a plane to escape. Authorities said he demanded access to the bank vault and a car for passage to the nearest airport.

Leninsk-Kuznetsky is in coal-mining country about 1,850 miles (3,000 kilometers) east of Moscow.

There has been a rash of reports of robberies as Russia struggles with its worst economic crisis in a decade. Late last month, police said two employees of a Moscow-based bank reported that they were confronted on a highway by gunmen who stole about 43 million rubles ($1.2 million) in cash in one of the country’s biggest armed robberies in years.

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