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Death Toll in Moscow Hostage Situation Climbs to 118 - 2002-10-27

Officials in Moscow said the death toll among hostages who were held in a theater by Chechen rebels has risen to at least 118. Meanwhile, relatives of hundreds of hostages freed when special forces stormed the theater are waiting outside hospitals for information about their loved ones.

Officials at various Moscow hospitals say some of the former hostages can go home. But that is not soon enough for many relatives who have been anxiously waiting outside city hospitals to see their loved ones.

Many have not even been able to find out which hospital their relatives were taken to.

Access to the hospitals has been tightly restricted, as hostages have been treated for the effects of the gas that was pumped into the theater.

Authorities refuse to identify the gas, which immobilized the Chechen militants enough to enable Russian troops to end the standoff.

A Russian Health Ministry official said Sunday that at least 118 of the hostages died in the operation to free them. Officials have not specified exactly what killed most of them.

Security officials insist the death toll would have been much higher without using gas, because the hostage-takers had threatened to blow up the theater if troops forced their way in.

The militants were wired with explosives strapped around their waists.

Around 50 of the hostage-takers were killed in the pre-dawn raid which ended the tense stand-off.