A mourning ceremony was held in Moscow on Friday to mark the tenth anniversary of the deaths of 130 people who were killed after Chechen militants seized a theater in the Russian capital.
After a minute of silence, white balloons, one for each hostage who died, were released into the sky and the names of the victims were read out. The ceremony continued with a requiem concert.
On October 23, 2002, some 50 Chechen militants stormed the Dubrovka theater in southwest Moscow and took 912 people hostage.
For three days, the hostages were held at gunpoint in the theater’s auditorium. The militants refused to surrender, demanding the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya.
But the Kremlin refused to enter into negotiations with the militants. “Russia does not hold talks with terrorists, it destroys them,” President Vladimir Putin said.
After three days of appeals and visits by public figures, in the early morning of October 26, 2002, Russian security forces pumped an unknown gas into the main auditorium through the building’s ventilation system to disable the militants before they could carry out their threat to blow up the hall.
Once the gas caused those inside to lose consciousness, a special forces team stormed the building, killing all the militants.
The vast majority of the hostages who died were killed by the gas. Many of the survivors continue to suffer from serious health problems. A lawyer for the families of the victims, Karinna Moskalenko, has disputed the official death toll and says 174 people died.
Human rights activists and the relatives of survivors have criticized the actions of the special services, saying lives could have been saved if the freed hostages had been placed in appropriate recovery positions and doctors had been informed as to the nature of the gas used.