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Russian Forces Take Control of Moscow Theater - 2002-10-26

Russian forces are now in control of a theater in Moscow where a group of Chechen rebels had been holding an estimated 700 people hostage. Officials say at least 36 of the hostage-takers have been killed but there is still no word on the number of casualties among their captives.

Russian forces stormed the building in the early morning hours of Saturday and are now in control of the theater in Moscow.

The Deputy Interior Minister, Vladimir Vassiliev, spoke to reporters shortly after the operation was completed. Mr. Vassiliev said there were shots in the building around five-thirty in the morning, Moscow time and then the Russian forces decided to storm the building.

Russian security officials said most of the Chechen rebels had been killed in the operation including the leader of the group, Movsar Barayev.

There is still no information on the status of the former hostages inside, although Russian officials said they were able to prevent a large loss of life during the operation.

An official from the security services, Sergei Ignatchenko, said some of the hostages had been killed but he did not say how they died or how many of them perished.

Russia's ORT television showed video of the inside of the theater. In some areas there was blood on the floor and the bodies of some of the hostage-takers.

Most of the hostages had already been moved out of the building. There were initial reports that the Russian security forces used sleeping gas during the operation.

The Chechen rebels took control of the building on Wednesday evening. They had been demanding an end to the war in Chechnya and Friday they announced that if the demands of the rebels were not met, they would begin killing hostages on Saturday morning.