Gunmen hold about 700 hostage in Moscow theater
October 23, 2002 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Gunmen hold about 700 hostage in Moscow theater Gunfire has been heard from a Moscow theatre where about 20 armed gunmen are reported to be holding the audience, believed to be about 700 people, hostage. More: Muslim members of the audience ... were also allowed to leave, Interfax said.
posted by falameufilho (58 comments total)
As the day goes on, terrorism continues to suck.
posted by four panels at 1:00 PM on October 23, 2002

Just wait for Russian spec ops to go in. It'll turn into a blood bath.
posted by dazed_one at 1:09 PM on October 23, 2002

Bush will start supporting Putin's efforts in Chechnya, and Putin will start supporting Bush's efforts in Iraq. These terrorists are digging their own graves here. Not that I'm complaining.
posted by dagny at 1:14 PM on October 23, 2002

I just spoke with an acquaintence in St. Petersburg. He said the news is reporting the gunmen have declared they are from Chechnya, though Chechen officials are saying to not beleive them.

The TV news also reports there are 1216 hostages, but the more likely number is 700-900.

A child who was released also has told reporters that the men were speaking in one of the languages spoken by Chechens.
posted by camworld at 1:15 PM on October 23, 2002

These gunmen, they vibrate?
posted by websavvy at 1:18 PM on October 23, 2002

They've identified themselves as Chechens -- and widows of the Chechen war. Both sides have been unbelievably brutal; it's hard to side with either. But this is pretty outrageous.

Prior terrorism blamed on Chechens include apartment blocks leveled by bombs in the dead of night and radioactive materials left in a Moscow park. Though US policy has long criticized Russia on the issue of human rights in Chechnya, criticism has softened considerably and the US has publicly linked the rebels with al Qaeda.
posted by dhartung at 1:20 PM on October 23, 2002

Perhaps the guns vibrate? Let's check
posted by ginz at 1:24 PM on October 23, 2002

Wow, it looks Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin will have a lot to commiserate about the next time they meet.
posted by rks404 at 1:27 PM on October 23, 2002

And I thought my day was horrible because apartment hunting in New York is the pits. Here's the story at Yahoo News.
posted by muckster at 1:27 PM on October 23, 2002

It's a shame that CNN still has the sniper story as its lead. I mean, I live in DC, but still, what's the bigger story right now?
posted by callmejay at 1:28 PM on October 23, 2002

posted by Catch at 1:31 PM on October 23, 2002

just another example of when not to yell fire in a theatre.

/tasteless joke
posted by tsarfan at 1:33 PM on October 23, 2002

If only the DC sniper wore a white hat.
posted by stbalbach at 1:40 PM on October 23, 2002

I was thinking last night, not how terrible one individual or place is, but how terrible this world can be for everyone.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:43 PM on October 23, 2002

TCS: That'll give ya sweet dreams.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 2:01 PM on October 23, 2002

i agree. the world is dangerous. it needs to be banned.
posted by jcterminal at 2:01 PM on October 23, 2002

Where's Cate Archer when you need her?

Flippancy aside, this could be a really bad scene...
posted by Cyrano at 2:13 PM on October 23, 2002


that often happens to me, too
then I have a few drinks and those thoughts go away
posted by matteo at 2:28 PM on October 23, 2002

This is just depressing. Just what is the Chechen's beef? I mean, what was it originally? Another stupid independence movement?
posted by ParisParamus at 2:38 PM on October 23, 2002

TCS: That'll give ya sweet dreams.

shadow, I lost no sleep, and really I'm at lost for words on how selfish of a world I see. Sometimes I can say, yes the US can be a terrible place and there are terrible people in it at times. But then I realize, I have it way better than most. But I wondered last night if the people of the world know it 's not them or me, just this shite day after day that is the terror. I apologize my feelings are low, I need not say, but sometimes one just has to say F-it to the world that be.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:39 PM on October 23, 2002

according to (in russian), the chechens promised to kill 10 hostages for every chechen wounded. also, according to the same site, they've tied up some of the hostages with explosives and set mines throughout the performance hall.
parisparamus: their beef is that the russian empire (in its various reincarnations) has been trying to subdue them for the last 250 or so years, torturing, transferring, and dispersing them. chechens on the other hand, have always been known as the extreme among the people of caucasus, and their beef is not only with russians but with pretty much anyone non-chechen around (except the al qaeda and the palestinian armed movements which they happen to like).
posted by bokononito at 2:55 PM on October 23, 2002

And to think, a decent % of the world's population thinks the Messiah has already come.

I feel nauseous.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:59 PM on October 23, 2002

(except the al qaeda and the palestinian armed movements which they happen to like)

Well, at least they know how to garner sympathy.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:00 PM on October 23, 2002

paris, i can't claim to know much about it, but my understanding is the old soviet union had lots of "minority problems", and the Chechens were considered among the more serious.
posted by quonsar at 3:05 PM on October 23, 2002

ah crap, i missed bokononito's informative post.
posted by quonsar at 3:07 PM on October 23, 2002

"A man claiming to be the leader of the group - a nephew of Chechen warlord Arbi Barayev - said he and his followers were suicide attackers who had come to Moscow 'not to survive, but to die'." [BBC]

This seems incompatible with making demands, but a chilling thought nonetheless. Regardless of the outcome, many will die.
posted by eddydamascene at 3:29 PM on October 23, 2002

Insert obligatory "captive audience" joke here
posted by alumshubby at 3:40 PM on October 23, 2002

Though the rebels have taken action in Moscow before, I can't ever recall such a large scale hostage taking in any conflict. I hate, despise violence as much as anyone, I think, and would love to see everyone get out alive. But the rebels seem to be missing a few screws: the gang is apparently demanding that authorities "resolve the situation in the Chechen republic." So yeah, the Russian government is just going to cave in to the whole conflict over 1000 or so hostages. Since President Vladmir Putin is not one of them, nor is any member of his family, think again.
posted by billsaysthis at 3:58 PM on October 23, 2002

Awful lot of jokes and snarks here compared to the Bali and sniper threads. I guess nobody knows any Russians.

bokononito: Good comment except that the last parenthesis is a mite unfair; they "like" those people because they're among the few available sources of support. Anyone actually interested in finding out what Chechens have to say for themselves can try here; they are often their own worst enemies in terms of tactics and p.r., but they do have a case, and the Russians did try to exterminate them.
posted by languagehat at 3:59 PM on October 23, 2002

Wow, and Americans have been criticized for not taking other nations' terrorist events seriously. Weird.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 4:00 PM on October 23, 2002

Another stupid independence movement?

[tongue in fucking cheek] Yeah, didn't that occur somewhere in the Middle East right after WWII? Real dumb. [/tifc]
posted by adampsyche at 4:07 PM on October 23, 2002

Great. I wasn't sure about mefi community protocols with regard to 'victims of terror' humour so I thought I would wing around for a while and get a feel for the place, you know, see how the whole terrorist humour thing goes down.

Having done that, I've got this killer joke about 9/11... something about raining men... but I can't for the life of me remember it. Stay seated, I'll go and find it...
posted by The Great Satan at 4:13 PM on October 23, 2002

Oh, what a shame, it's already been done.
posted by The Great Satan at 5:43 PM on October 23, 2002

Languagehat: ... but [Chechens] do have a case, and the Russians did try to exterminate them.

Whereas this action will melt the Russians' hearts and they'll start acting really nice to the Chechens... [/sarcasm]

Seriously, as much as I fear for the hostages, I shudder to think what will happen to Chechnya if these hostages die.

Which makes me wonder, in which instances has terrorism of this sort has paid any real strategic benefits to the terrorists' side? Maybe Tamil Tigers? Maybe WW2-era Zionists? Where has crime paid? Terror experts please speak up. Because overall I can't help wonder, WTF were these guys thinking? What do they hope to gain? Or are they at some level really just nihilists? [/non-rhetorical question]
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 5:46 PM on October 23, 2002

Which makes me wonder, in which instances has terrorism of this sort has paid any real strategic benefits to the terrorists' side?

that seems to imply any 'long term benefit strategically' so one must define long-term...lets say 40 years.

check out the crimes of Carlos the Jackal and Abu Nidal for starters.

Where has crime paid? I'm thinking...Arafat?

"WTF were these guys thinking?"

my thoughts exactly. But one never knows, it could end peacefully.
posted by clavdivs at 6:31 PM on October 23, 2002

Oh, Great Satan, but you are familiar with the mefi community protocol regarding comments pertaining to 'victims of terror,' aren't you? Or at least the Australian victims.
posted by shoos at 6:35 PM on October 23, 2002

four panels: As the day goes on, terrorism continues to suck

Which makes me think, whether terrorism can be really rooted out with force (combined with arrogant attitude of a few powerful countries).
posted by orelius at 6:36 PM on October 23, 2002

Game, set, match to Shoos.
posted by Karl at 7:01 PM on October 23, 2002

Where has crime paid? I'm thinking...Arafat?

It hasn't paid there. The Palestinians are worse off now than they were 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago.

These Chechins are definitely wacked. The smart way to go would be to develop and civilize your province, and then seek independence. But of course, by the time that occurred, the whole idea of independence would seem dumb (in most situations).

Oh well, more wacky Muslims.

I just have this image of nice, innocent people about to go to their graves. It's really unbearably sad and depressing.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:11 PM on October 23, 2002

shoos, I sincerely apologise for the 'stomach churning vulture' reference but stand by the rest of the post.

I was upset at the time and as it happens, my suspicions were founded, I lost a schoolmate over in Bali and I question the motives/humanity of anyone who tries to wring political capital out of the dead. Your timing repulsed me.

I suspect that, had I jumped into the (brilliant) 9/11 thread with a similar comment, I would have been told in no uncertain terms where to go.

I appreciate this is an American site but, as a citizen of the world, I would love to see the same amount of respect allocated to all victims of hate-mongers.
posted by The Great Satan at 7:16 PM on October 23, 2002

On the other hand, Paris, Arafat and the PLO's tactics have brought fairly unprecedented support and attention from the world at large. There are a whole lot of peoples in relatively similar situations, but who don't get the press or the love precisely because they're not blowing up buses. Tibet, anyone?

Also, confinement be damned, Arafat has certainly personally benefited from all this.

That's one thing that really gets me about terrorism. I can't help but feel that all of this is really for the benefit of a couple of powerful men, and everybody else gets to die for it.

Oh, wait. That's pretty much how the world at large works, isn't it?
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:31 PM on October 23, 2002

Um. I would say that terrorism paid off handsomely for Arafat, because it brought about the Oslo accord, which returned him to the Palestinian Territories and gave him control over millions of dollars from Islamic charities, the EU, and other benefactors. It hasn't worked out quite so well for the Palestinian people, though.

For Paris, I would say that the Chechens were a people of the Caucasus who never accepted Russian rule from the 19th century on. After the end of Soviet control, they took a shot at independence, in which they proved themselves as ugly at defending their homeland as the Russians were at controlling it. (One of the primary reasons the International Red Cross is looking at an alternate symbol was because of a war crime when some Muslim Chechens killed a number of ICRC workers for displaying a "Christian" symbol, after which Chechens kinda bottomed out on the sympathy-of-the-world-meter.)

There's a decent flash history of the Chechen conflict via the Guardian, as well as an index of recent events in the war.

languagehat: Extermination? Chechen supporters have been quick to make that charge. There has been brutal suppression, and ethnic cleansing -- resettlement and dispersal. And there was a wholesale deportation to Siberia in the 1940s. In any case, Russia's policy has not been so much an antipathy to Chechens specifically, but an inability to allow the Empire, the USSR -- and then the Russian Federation -- to fragment further. Tall poppy syndrome.
posted by dhartung at 7:42 PM on October 23, 2002

These Chechins are definitely wacked.... Oh well, more wacky Muslims.

Paris's usual thoughtful analysis. Here's an example of what those wacky Chechens are reacting to:
On 22 February 1944, tens of thousands of NKVD troops assembled and deported at one hour's notice the vast majority of the indigenous Chechen and Ingush populations This time, 'pacification' was supposed to be final. The nationalities involved were struck out of all Soviet documents, and vanished from the 'Great Soviet Encyclopaedia', as if they had never been.

According to the most credible figures, 478,479 Chechens and Ingush were loaded on to trains in February 1944; when Khrushchev publicly revealed what had happened, 400,478 were later officially reported as having been deported—which is a strong suggestion that the other 78,000 died en route or soon after they were unloaded, freezing and starving, in the Kazakh steppe. Thousands never made it to the trains at all. In half a dozen mountain villages, from where it was difficult to move the population in mid-winter, the NKVD troops herded them into mosques and barns and killed them all.
[from Anatol Lieven's Chechnya, p. 319]

And Solzhenitsyn, in Gulag Archipelago, says:
There was one nation which would not give in, would not acquire the mental habits of submission—and not just individual rebels among them, but the whole nation to a man. These were the Chechens... No-one could stop them from living as they did. The regime which had ruled the land for thirty years could not force them to respect its laws.
Oh, and where has terrorism paid off? How about Israel?
posted by languagehat at 7:49 PM on October 23, 2002

Great Satan: Apology accepted. I'm sorry to hear about your classmate. As far as I can tell, I don't think the fact that this site is based in the US makes the Americans here less considerate in their posts about things going on with non-Americans elsewhere in the world. Who doesn't have a finite amount of neighborhood/geo/cultural centricity anyways?
posted by shoos at 7:52 PM on October 23, 2002

Gee, languagehat: how is it that Israel can have good relations with the children of Hilter's generation, but Chechens can't deal with post-Societ Russia.? I don't buy it. In any case murdering Moscovites in 2002 is an atrocity.

Whatever legitimate complaints the Chechens have, their terrorism is, well, terrorism.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:14 PM on October 23, 2002

that's post-Soviet.

And don't give me non=sequiturs about things in Israel.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:17 PM on October 23, 2002

Paris - I guess you'd maintain a sense of equanimity if your home town, or city, was reduced to total rubble? With random killing/disappearances, rapes and torture by occupying forces thrown into the mix? Please parse, for my feeble minded benefit, the difference between state terrorism and non-state terrorism.

Languagehat - my hat's off to you for the nutshell (recent) history on Chechnaya.
posted by troutfishing at 8:34 PM on October 23, 2002

troutfishing: Tell me this, o Guru of Moral Equivalence, when does Chechen terrorism become a bad thing? Or is Ronald Reagan not the only person to call terrorists "freedom fighters"?
posted by dhartung at 10:18 PM on October 23, 2002

Interesting news updates posted by Chechen rebels on this on their web site.
posted by jschuur at 10:35 PM on October 23, 2002

Thanks for a fascinating link, jschuur! Compared to the CNN footage I'm getting on my TV the Kavkaz News Agency is very detailed. CNN are STILL broadcasting nighttime videos, though it's midday in Moscow by now... The Chechen news site is chilling reading. How they shot a woman dead, for instance, it's so coldly written. And it's tragic too: apparently 20 of the hostage-takers are widows of Chechen soldiers killed by Russian troops, determined to die "making a difference" rather than being shot at home. I don't know enough about the greater political situation here. But it's clear that there is tragedy and great grief on both sides.

And that doesn't mean I think it's OK to take hundreds of people hostage. I don't. I do think it's valuable to be able to read and hear several sides of an issue though.
posted by jill at 1:51 AM on October 24, 2002

Paris suggests that the Chechens should be able to set aside the atrocities that happened in the 1940s and deal with the Russian state, just as Israel has set aside any animosity over the events in Hitler's Germany. This would be a good idea, if the events had ended back in the 1940s but sadly they haven't. A glance back only two years reveals that the human rights abuses took place after the Russian military retook Grozny. I wish we were all capable of setting aside the past with equamity but we aren't.

None of this means I agree with taking hostages to further a political cause, but you do have to wonder why, when the old USSR broke up, Russia did not allow Chechyna its independence.
posted by anyanka at 2:50 AM on October 24, 2002

Agree with anyanka. Totally.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:20 AM on October 24, 2002

One of the primary reasons the International Red Cross is looking at an alternate symbol was because of a war crime when some Muslim Chechens killed a number of ICRC workers for displaying a "Christian" symbol...

I thought the Red Cross used a Red Crescent when working in muslim countries.
posted by falameufilho at 4:26 AM on October 24, 2002

Dhartung - are we both in fact arguing for the same point? "-troutfishing: Tell me this, o Guru of Moral Equivalence, when does Chechen terrorism become a bad thing? Or is Ronald Reagan not the only person to call terrorists "freedom fighters"?" -- One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. One man's "Just War" is another man's act of "Invasion", "aggression", or just an "atrocity". This is the problem! I don't make any distinction between state terror and "terrorism" (as perpetrated by non-state groups).

I find both the "Just War" theory and it's corollary (less talked about these days in the US post 9-11), the "Just Terrorism" theory to be morally dubious.
posted by troutfishing at 5:24 AM on October 24, 2002

Moral indigestion..*vomits up frog*
posted by troutfishing at 6:45 AM on October 24, 2002

OK, trout. As long as you're not arguing that these terrorists get a pass because of the other bad stuff that's happened.

falameufilho: The Red Crescent is used by national Red Cross/Red Crescent organizations in Muslim countries. For starters, Chechnya is not a Muslim country itself -- it is a Muslim-dominant region inside Russia, whose Red Cross uses, well, the Cross. But war zones are generally served by yet another organization, which is called the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC], and is based in Switzerland as a member organization of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The IFRC has been reluctant to alter its emblems -- they have blackballed the "Israeli Red Cross", Magen David Adom, which uses a red Star of David, on the argument that they can't add symbols to the Geneva Convention -- the legal document which regulates the neutrality of the organizations and their symbols -- just for one country. (Meanwhile, Muslim countries have two from which to choose -- the red crescent, or the red lion, which only Iran uses; and the ICRC has been at the forefront of groups accusing Israel of war crimes in places like Jenin, sparking charges of anti-Semitism.) Other nations have wanted to use mixed symbols, Buddhist nations have wanted to use still others, so the IFRC has settled on a Red Diamond outline, which may be voted on this year. It's all a big mess.

anyanka: The simplest explanation is that Chechnya was not a separate Soviet Republic (like Ukraine or Kazakhstan), all of which had nominal sovereignty in the USSR (some even had their own votes in the UN general assembly, which actually recognized them as separate countries -- a sly achievement by Unka Joe); it is a republic within the Russian Federation. Given the instability of a decade ago -- the whole region was considered a tinderbox, a characteristic that has only slighlty abated -- Russia felt it had no choice but to ensure that no parts of the Federation itself broke off, offering encouragement to the dozens of other ethnic homelands they had incorporated. You also have to recall that Russia, the historical entity, by losing Ukraine and other republics, had just suffered a territorial rollback dating to the 18th century Tsars. From Moscow's perspective, it makes perfect sense to insist on territorial integrity. India and Indonesia have very similar problems.
posted by dhartung at 7:30 AM on October 24, 2002

alumshubby: Insert obligatory "captive audience" joke here

How about:
Rebels begin to kill their captive audience.
Courtesy the Sydney Morning Herald
posted by blogRot at 8:35 AM on October 24, 2002

Shit. I was hoping this wouldn't happen, but of course the odds were that it would. But it's a bit hasty to blame it on the rebels. From the article:
He did not say whether the rebels had shot her, or in what circumstances. "This woman was killed yesterday. Today, as demanded by the terrorists, two Jordanian doctors were sent inside and the body was given to them," he said.
This does not (I feel compelled to say) mean that I am "supporting the terrorists"; I consider the Russian FSB thugs and the Chechens about equally likely to kill people at the drop of a hat. But it's not about likelihood, it's about facts, and we don't have them yet.

And don't give me non=sequiturs about things in Israel.

Paris: That wasn't a sequitur to the Chechen stuff, it was in response to Hieronymus's earlier "Where has crime paid? Terror experts please speak up."
posted by languagehat at 8:53 AM on October 24, 2002

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