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Moscow raid gas said opium derivative
( 2002-10-29 09:31 ) (7 )

The mysterious gas Russian forces pumped into a theater to end a hostage crisis was an opiate -- a chemical related to morphine, Pentagon officials said Monday.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, refused to criticize Russian special forces for using the gas, which killed 116 of the hostages as well as the hostage takers.

The State Department said an American hostage died during the operation. U.S. officials found a body believed to be that of Sandy Alan Booker, 49, who was visiting Moscow from Oklahoma and had been reported missing by his friends and family. U.S. officials wouldn't publicly identify the victim, citing privacy concerns.

"The president abhors the loss of life, but he understands that it is the terrorists" who are responsible for the tragedy, spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday as President Bush traveled to New Mexico.

Military officials said the US Embassy in Moscow had determined that the gas used by the Russians was some sort of opium derivative. Such substances not only kill pain and dull the senses but also can cause coma and death by shutting down breathing and circulation.

Russian authorities have refused to name the substance used, even keeping that information from doctors treating the rescued hostages.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States, as well as other countries, have asked the Russians to identify the gas they used.

"We are trying to get at that information," Boucher said. "That knowledge is also needed by the doctors. We're awaiting (the) response, but at this point, we just don't have the response."

Fleischer did not endorse the tactic in remarks to reporters as Bush flew from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to Phoenix, then from Arizona to New Mexico. But he made clear the administration's view that blame for the deaths lay with the captors.

Asked directly about the use of the gas, Fleischer wouldn't say whether the administration believed it was appropriate. "We don't know what all the facts are," he said.

But, he said, "As that information is developed, the president feels very strongly that the people who caused this are the terrorists."

Bush had not spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin as of Sunday evening, Fleischer said.

Fleischer said the United States still is unsure how many Americans were involved in the siege but blamed that on the difficulty of keeping track of traveling Americans and not on the Russian government.

The measured White House reaction comes as Bush seeks Russia's support for a tough resolution in the United Nations on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

In Moscow, a US consular officer visited an American survivor of the theater hostage crisis, a State Department official said.

The identity of the female patient was not released for privacy reasons, the official said. Although she was hospitalized, the official said she was not injured.

"We are still continuing to determine the whereabouts of possibly one or two other Americans," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Russian special forces troopers ended the 2 1/2-day takeover before dawn Saturday with a raid on the theater shortly before the hostage-takers, rebels from Russia's embattled Chechnya region, had threatened to begin killing their more than 800 captives.

The Moscow Health Department said 405 former hostages, including nine children, remained hospitalized Monday after 239 were released. At least 45 remained in grave condition Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko said Monday.

All but two of the 118 hostages known to be dead were killed by the gas, not their captors. The 50 Chechen rebels holding the hostages also were killed, either by the gas or by gunshots as security services stormed the theater.



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