On 10/23/2002 late evening, a group of about 43 Chechen terrorists, among them 18 Black Widows, took control of the Nord-Ost Theater in Dubrovka suburb of Moscow and took all over 850 audience and staff hostage.

The Chechens who called themselves “Chechen Special Purpose Islamic Regiment” and led by one of the senior field commanders of Shamil Basayev – Movsar Barayev , 22, arrived with a truck to the Dubrovka theater in the middle of the evening show and entered through the scene.  Their entrance was so surprising that the audience were sure, in the first minutes, that the kidnapping is part of the show.  

The demand of the Chechens was a simple one – immediate andunconditional Russian withdrawal from Chechnya. Later they also demanded immediate termination of the use of heavy weapons by Russia in Chechnya.

On the same night, the 10/23/2002, the Chechens agreed to free 15 children and a man with a heart problem.  A young woman, Olga Romanova (26), managed to make her way through the police cordon and enter the theatre. She confronted the terrorists and urged the hostages to stand up to their captors. The terrorists decided she was a security service (FSB) agent and fatally shot her. Olga Romanova became the first casualty of the event. 

In the second day, the 10/24/2002, the kidnappers released, as a gesture, 39 more hostages and promised to release 50 more if Akhmad Kadyrov, the pro Russian Chechen PM will come to the theater. Akhmad Kadyrov ignored the proposal . Also in the second day FSB Col’ Konstantin Vasilyev attempted to get onto the patio of the Theater, but he was shot at by the terrorists as he approached the building.

In the third day, the 10/25/2002, the rebel leader told the hostages that they had no grudge against foreigners (about 75 in number), and promised to release anyone who showed a foreign passport in the presence of foreign diplomats. The Russian negotiator, however, refused to accept this offer; they said they “insist that everybody be released, without any distinction between foreigners and Russians”. Eventually four more hostages, citizens from Azerbaijan were released at about 10:00. A group of Russian doctors entered the theatre to bring medicines for the hostages. MTV channel journalists also recorded an interview with Movsar Barayev , where he announced that he might release all the children by morning. Around midnight, a gunfire incident took place as a hostage ran over the backs of theater seats toward a female terrorist, who was sitting next to a large explosive device. A male hostage-taker shot at him and missed, but stray bullets hit and severely wounded Tamara Starkova and fatally wounded Pavel Zakharov, who were evacuated from the building soon after.

On the fourth day, the 10/26/2002, after midnight, two members of the police special force were wounded by a grenade fired from the building. At dawn, at about 05:00, forces from Russia’s SPETSNAZ (or “special purpose”) from the FSB, surrounded and stormed the theater, first through the bar below the building. The assault began by infusing a special gas, based on Fentanyl, through the theater ventilation system. As terrorists and hostages began to fall unconscious the Russian troops stormed in.  

Some terrorists who were not in the theater hall returned fire and the shootout lasted about 2 hours more. Eventually all the Chechen hostage takers were killed by Russian soldiers including those who had succumbed to the gas but were still alive. The rescue efforts of the hostages, who were hurt by the gas, were conducted in total disorder.

At least 41 terrorists and 129 hostages died during the raid or in the following days.  The fate of some Chechen terrorists remains unknown. It is possible that some of them managed to flee the scene in the total confusion that took place. All but two of the hostages’ deaths were due to the Fentanyl gas.  

Summary ; 

The Moscow Nord-Ost Theater event in Dubrovka was a typical operation of Shamil Basayev in the following parameters:

A.  A large group of fighters, all ready to die, including many women, so they can cover a large compound and to replace each other for a long time.

B. The takeover of a large compound with internal halls so rescue forces have to fight a long way, through many corridors, rooms, stairwell and other obstacles before reaching the place of the hostages.

C. The females were, often, abused by Russian soldiers or widows of Chechen fighters and participated in the attack in order to revenge their humiliation or loss.

The Russian security services find out, in the investigation following the Moscow  Theater Crisis, that some of the terrorist perpetrators lived in Moscow, legally or illegally, sometime before the attack. Some used to bribe Russian officials for a permit to stay in Moscow.  

Although the brilliant, unprecedented tactic of using gas, which was very successful, the crisis ended in a typical Russian way – in total confusion, which claimed additional lives, over the necessary outcome of the event.

Eventually no one was charged or put on trial for the Moscow  Theater attack to light up the preparation or to help in the identification of many of the perpetrators.   

The Moscow  Theater Crisis was a general rehearsal and a promo to the Beslan Horror on 09/01/2004.  


*** Read the story of one of the 18 Chechen females who participated in the attack Aishat Bakueva       

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