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7 hostages freed and all 75 foreigners to be freed in Moscow theater
( 2002-10-25 14:26 ) (7 )

Chechen rebels holding hundreds of hostages at a Moscow theater have agreed to release all 75 foreigners they are holding captive, a security official said early Friday.

Embassies were being requested to send representatives to the scene to meet their freed citizens, Federal Security Service spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko said. The hostages include Americans, Britons, Dutch, Australians, Austrians and Germans.

Seven more hostages were freed Friday morning ! men and women who were all Russian citizens ! as officials also expressed hopes that all the estimated 30 children being held captive would be freed soon.

Some of the hostages were starting to sympathize with their captors ! who are demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya ! and calling on their relatives to stage anti-war actions in Moscow, said Federal Security Service spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko. He declined to give further details of the identities of those released, and said they were receiving medical care.

Female hostage-takers wearing head-to-toe black robes nervously fingered buttons apparently wired to explosives early Friday while their band of Chechen rebels allowed medical aid for hundreds of captives at a Moscow theater.

Negotiations with the captors are continuing, Ignatchenko sid, with the emphasis on gaining the release first of women and children and also foreigners.

Before the releases, the Federal Security Service said about 600 hostages remained in the theater, including the about 30 children and 75 foreigners, while 39 hostages had earlier been released. A Jordanian doctor who was allowed to treat the hostages late Thursday put the total number of captives number at 800.

"We are safe and sound, it's warm and we have water and there's nothing else we need in a situation like this," Anna Adrianova, one of the hostages, told Ekho Moskvy radio early Friday. She said the hostages were pleading to Russia's leaders for the situation to be resolved immediately ! but without the use of force.

On Thursday, one young female hostage was shot in the chest, the only known fatality during the siege, supposedly for trying to move around inside the theater after the attackers carried out their raid Wednesday night. Unable to identify her, police were asking media to publicize her description.

The hostage-takers ! who number as many as 50 and who are heavily armed, according to witnesses ! have demanded that Russian forces withdraw from Chechnya, the southern Muslim province that has been mired in war for much of the last decade. They have wired the theater, as well as their own bodies, with explosives.

In footage filmed early Friday by Russia's NTV, whose correspondents were allowed to accompany a doctor inside the theater, three male captors ! in camouflage and carrying Kalashnikov-style rifles ! were seen sitting in what appeared to be a kitchen. Two wore black masks and the other with his face exposed was identified by NTV as the group's leader, Movsar Barayev, nephew of rebel warlord Arbi Barayev, who reportedly died last year.

Two women, part of the gang of hostage-takers, wore robes with Arabic printed on their hoods. Only their eyes were exposed, and they were cradling pistols against their chests. Both appeared to have explosives wrapped in tape around their waists, with the packages wired to a small button they carried in their hands.

The captors made no comments in the footage shown, which also later included a brief clip of a group of six women hostages guarded by one of the female attackers.

Dr. Leonid Roshal, head of the Medical Center for Catastrophes who was with the NTV crew, said the hostages were trying to keep calm and that only two or three were hysterical. He said he had treated the hostages for various minor ailments ! including eye trouble, coughing and hypertension ! and left behind some medication before emerging from the theater early Friday.

"In general, the situation is calm," he told NTV.

The attackers, some of them women claiming to be widows of ethnic Chechen insurgents, stormed the theater just before the second act of a popular musical Wednesday evening.

Some audience members and many in the cast were able to flee in the early moments of the crisis, and on Thursday, two other hostages raced to freedom under fire from a grenade launcher.

President Vladimir Putin said the audacious raid was planned by terrorists based outside Russia, and the Qatar-based satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera broadcast statements allegedly made by some of the hostage-takers.

"I swear by God we are more keen on dying than you are keen on living," a black-clad male said in the broadcast believed to have been recorded Wednesday. "Each one of us is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of God and the independence of Chechnya."

The hostage-taking occurred just 4.5 kilometers (2.7 miles) from the Kremlin and further undermines claims by Putin and other top Russian officials who insist the situation is under control in Chechnya, where Russian soldiers suffer casualties daily in small skirmishes or mine explosions.

Putin described the hostage-taking as one of the largest terror attacks in history and claimed it had been planned "in one of the foreign terrorist centers" that "made a plan and found the perpetrators." He didn't provide evidence that the raid was organized abroad.

The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the raid Thursday, calling it a "heinous act" of international terrorism and a threat to peace and security.

Negotiation efforts so far failed to yield any large release of hostages.

Liberal Russian lawmaker Grigory Yavlinsky went into the theater Thursday night for negotiations and came out after about an hour, without any immediate result. Roshal, the doctor, was to undertake further negotiations later Friday.

The head of Doctors Without Borders, Dr. Morten Rostrup, also arrived in Moscow early Friday after a demand by the hostage-takers, but the group said it wasn't yet sure what role it would play in the crisis.

Earlier, prominent liberal parliament member Irina Khakamada and lawmaker Iosif Kobzon ! who is also a singer beloved by Chechens ! spoke with the captors. One of them promised the duo that citizens of countries "not at war with Chechnya" would be released, ITAR-Tass reported.

The hostages include Americans, Britons, Dutch, Australians, Austrians and Germans. A British hostage who appeared ill was released Thursday afternoon and hospitalized, the British Embassy said.

Near the theater, officials set up a center to provide psychological counseling for distraught relatives, who desperately tried to reach family members inside the building on mobile phones. Meanwhile, armored personnel carriers lined the streets, snipers perched on rooftops and troops patrolled the area.

Over the past decade, Chechens or their sympathizers have been involved in a number of bold, often bloody hostage-taking situations in southern Russian provinces, especially in Dagestan.



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