Gas Killed 115 Hostages in Moscow, Doctors Say
Andrei Seltsovsky, chairman of the health committee of the city of Moscow, told a news conference that 115 hostages perished from “The effects of the gas exposure.” Officials would not say what the gas was, but compared it to anaesthetic. Security analysts surmised that it was probably a fast-acting military nerve agent. Some 150 former captives were in intensive care, 45 of them in “grave condition.”
Only two of the hostages were killed by gunshots. One was killed by the rebels shortly before the early morning raid, and another was shot earlier in the siege. Almost all the 50 or so attackers were killed.
The doctors explained that lack of food and high stress during the 58-hour standoff made the hostages more susceptible to the gas and contributed to the death toll.
The acknowledgment cast a shadow over the daring raid, which had been held up by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a conclusive victory over international terrorism.
When the situation became more clear, President Putin went on television Saturday night to praise the military?s achievement, but to acknowledge the civilian toll. “We managed to achieve the almost-impossible, which was to save the lives of hundreds, hundreds of people,” he said.
“We failed to save everyone,” he went on, “Forgive us.”
The United States and other countries stood by the Russian leadership. “This is a reminder of the risk to the free world that terrorists present,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Officials said the swift military action prevented a much larger loss of life and perhaps the detonation of massive explosives in the theater.
“We succeeded in preventing mass deaths and the collapse of the building which we had been threatened with,” Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilyev told reporters.
Putin, who rose to power three years ago pledging to clamp down on the decade-old rebellion on Russia’s southern fringe and boost public security, had said the main task was to secure the hostages’ safe release.
The Russian president has taken an uncompromising stand on the conflict in largely Muslim Chechnya on Russia’s southern fringes, where the Kremlin has twice launched military strikes to crush separatists.
Russia accuses the Arab fighters in Chechnya of links to radical Islamist groups like the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, the group blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.
The Moscow hostage situation was the most violent attack within Russia since the first Chechen war that lasted from 1994 to 1996, when rebels killed some 120 people after seizing a hospital in the southern Russian town of Budennovsk. In 1996 a Chechen group took more than 2,000 people hostage in a raid on the nearby Dagestani town of Kizlyar.