Little Bits of History

Poison Gas

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 23, 2011

The Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis

October 23, 2002: The Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis begins. Also called the 2002 Nord-Ost Siege, the Moscow theater was stormed by 40-50 armed Chechens. These armed men and women claimed to belong to the Islamist militant separatist movement in Chechnya. There were 850 hostages taken. The attackers were demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and calling for an end to the Second Chechen War. The building stormed was the House of Culture of State Ball-Bearing Plant Number 1, a building about 2.5 miles from the Kremlin. The militants arrived during the second act of Nord-Ost at slightly after 9 PM.

The terrorists entered firing assault weapons into the air. Between 850 and 900 theater patrons and performers were held. A few of the performers not on stage where able to escape and inform police of the activity in the theater. The Chechens offered to release all foreign nationals who could show a passport, but the Russian authorities wanted either all or none of the hostages released. The terrorists were led by Movsar Barayev, the nephew of a slain Chechen terrorist militia commander. The media were given a videotaped statement listing the claims of the Chechens inside.

That first night, about 150-200 people were released. They included children, pregnant women, Muslims, and some of the foreign nationals. They also released people needing medical treatment. The terrorists threatened to kill ten hostages for each of their number harmed by security forces. On October 24, negotiations between authorities in Russia and the hostage takers in the theater continued. Another 39 hostages were freed on October 24. The next day, another 19 hostages were freed.

On October 25, the Special Forces, called Spetsnaz, pumped the building full of some toxic gas. The intention was to subdue the terrorists and allow the Spetsnaz to enter and free the hostages. Instead, some of the Chechens had gas masks and responded by firing into the outside crowd wildly. The Russians entered the building firing their guns. In the following melee, 39 of the terrorists and 129 of the hostages were killed. Most of those who died were killed by the gas rather than by bullets.

“Naturally, it is a terrible, despicable crime when, as in Munich, people are taken hostage, people are killed. But probing the motives of those responsible and showing that they are also individuals with families and have their own story does not excuse what they did.” – Steven Spielberg

“The issue of terrorism must be dealt with firmly. We must work very hard to avoid loss of life. We must work very hard to avoid civilian casualties.” – Ahmed Chalabi 

“We will fight hostage taking like we fight terrorism. “ – Ali A. Saleh

“Freeing hostages is like putting up a stage set, which you do with the captors, agreeing on each piece as you slowly put it together; then you leave an exit through which both the captor and the captive can walk with sincerity and dignity.” – Terry Waite

Also on this day:
Fore – In 1930, the first miniature golf tournament was held.
Bump! Boom! – In 1958, the Springhill mining disaster struck.