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Russians Claim Evidence Links Chechen Leader to Theater Siege

Russian officials say they have evidence proving the leader of Chechen separatists, Aslan Maskhadov, was involved in last week's hostage-taking at a Moscow theatre.

During a news conference, officials played tapes of what they said are intercepted phone calls made by the hostage-takers, in which they allegedly discuss Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov's knowledge of the operation.

Presidential Aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky says the tapes show there can be no peace talks with Mr. Maskhadov. He says Mr. Maskhadov is no longer a legitimate representative of the Chechen people.

Officials also showed pictures of weapons they say were seized when special forces stormed the building, gassing everyone on the way in.

The head of the Russian FSB security service, Alexander Zdanovich said the weapons cache included the equivalent of 120 kilograms of TNT enough explosives, "to bring the building down."

Mr. Zdanovich also defended the use of the gas, Fentanyl, an opiate sometimes used in surgery. He described it as a quick anesthetic, as he said was required by the situation.

He said the gas is permitted by international and Russian anti-terrorism laws. And he added it is these same laws that require details of its use not be made public, in the interest of national security.

The gas quickly disabled the hostage-takers, but also knocked out the hostages. One hundred seventeen of the nearly 800 hostages apparently died from the effects of the gas. Two others were shot to death.

The Russian government has been roundly criticized for not being more forthcoming about use of the gas in the early hours after the standoff, as the freed hostages began to die from its effects.