Friday, 20 July 2018

Lift The Siege 10 - Moscow Theatre siege

It's hard to know quite where to start with this one. So many of the facts are shrouded in mystery, from the number of fatal casualties, the precise chemical agent pumped into the theatre to start the assault on it, the precise number of hostage takers, to two instances of people walking in off the street and into the heart of the theatre during the stand off stage and both being shot dead. 

What can be established is that in 2002, 40 or 50 armed Chechens sealed off a Moscow theatre during a performance and rigged it with explosives as well as many wearing suicide belts themselves. Nearly 900 actors, production crew and audience members were taken hostage. Muslim Chechnya was seeking independence from Russia and was fighting the second of two brutal wars which has produced some of the best war literature since the Vietnam war. International opinion was that the conflict should be brought to an end and President Putin was supposedly feeling this pressure. One conspiracy theory is that a heinous act like taking 900 hostages suited Putin and united the country behind him and that the terrorists were given somewhat of a helping hand with double agents channeling them towards the theatre as a target and that their explosives were in fact non-functioning. There is no way of establishing this, despite allegations that two of the Chechens have disappeared without arrest, because they were FSB (Russian security forces) agents. 

The Chechens released several non-Russian nationals, saying they had no quarrel with them. They released mothers with their children and the sick, some 150 people in all. The siege proceeded as a stand off, except for the strange instance of a member of the public waltzing through police and security lines and marching into the theatre. 26 year old Olga Romanov then proceeded to remonstrate with the hostages that they should stand up to their captors, whereupon she was shot dead. Well known Russians were brought in outside to negotiate with the Chechens, singers, scientists and journalists (although in Russia, singers & scientists were also MPs).  Another man Gennady Vlakh repeated the feat of Olga Romanov, claiming his son was a hostage and was also shot dead. It was never established who he was exactly, since he had no son inside the theatre. 

After 4 days of the siege after claims that two hostages had been killed, and a leak that special security forces were going to storm the building in the small hours, they actually went in at 5am reckoning that the hostage takers would have been more relaxed having stood down from repelling the expected attack hours earlier. The assault itself was mainly conducting by pumping an unknown gas in through the building's ventilation system which knocked out the vast majority of the Chechens and many hostages. None of the wired explosives went off, all the suicide belted women were knocked out by the gas, while the failure to detonate the theatre explosives may attest to claims that it was dummy material supplied by the FSB agent provocateurs of the whole plot). Some of the Chechens had gas masks and engaged the security forces in running gun battles throughout the building, but all were eventually killed, save the mystery men who it was claimed were allowed to slip away as they were Russian agents.

In all, the 40-50 Chechens were killed, 130 hostages died and two special forces had died from gas inhalation. Of the dead hostages, only two were found with bullet wounds; the vast majority of them had been killed by the gas. many were evacuated from the building, alive but unconscious. However the exact nature of the gas was withheld from attending doctors at the site, resulting in the deaths of many of those evacuated hostages. 17 of the cast members of the play died, including two child actors. The authorities blamed the deaths on heart attacks and other health issues from being held hostage with little water and an unfortunate self-suffocation by lolling back in theatre seats when the gas knocked them out and their own tongues blocked up their airways. The gas itself was reported no to have caused the fatalities. Even though many evacuees died outside the theatre having already been poisoned by it. 

After a three year official investigation into the affair ground to an inconclusive halt, an independent commission set itself up to investigate, Two of its most famous members were Anna Politkovskaya (a journalist who had been part of the volunteer negotiators with the Chechens) and Alesander Litvinenko (an ex FSB agent, familiar with the operations of the Security Forces), together with Russian politician Sergei Yushenkov, all three of whom wound up being assassinated by the FSB. Their contention was that the whole siege had been precipitated by the FSB with inside agents and agent provocateurs. 


"Three Dreams In The Key Of G" has three female voices in a state of siege. One a young mother in sectarian Northern Ireland, just after the Good Friday Peace Agreement has returned paramilitary fighters from both sides back into the domestic realm for an uneasy peace there. The second a Waco-like siege in Florida, as the FBI, DEA and ATF surround a compound full of women, which they see as a threat to all of mankind. The third is in laboratories all over the globe, the Human Genome is being besieged by scientists as they try and uncover its code for life. 

The siege will be lifted 26/07/2018
Published by Dead Ink Books 

Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK

Lift the Siege #9 Iranian Embassy

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