At first, the audience refused to believe them, prompting one of the gunmen to scream: ''Don’t you see what is going on?''
The Kavkaz.org web site, a rebel Chechen mouthpiece, and the BBC have both confirmed that the terrorists are Chechen rebels. They are demanding an end to the war in Chechnya and a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from the region. They have given the Russian government a deadline of 7 days to fulfill their demands.
Approximately 150 hostages have so far been released, including 20 children, with at least 500 people still thought to be inside the theatre. One hostage has contacted his mother by mobile phone and said that the terrorists are distributing water but not food.
On Thursday morning Ekho Moskvy Radio broadcast a live link with another hostage, Maria Shkolnikova, calling from inside the theatre. She reported that there are a total of 62 foreigners among those being held. They are citizens of the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Canada, Australia, Latvia, Moldova, Yugoslavia, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, the USA, Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland and Ukraine.
Shkolnikova also said that the terrorists demanded that representatives of the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres organizations be present at the talks with the Russian authorities. They also want the representatives of the two organizations to be of the same nationality as the foreign hostages and not Russians.
Though no Austrians were confirmed among the hostages, the Austrian ambassador said earlier on Thursday that the westerners would be turned over to diplomats and freed. ''We were requested to be here and told that our citizens would be handed over to their diplomatic officers,'' Franz Cede told reporters outside the theatre.
Earlier, one of the freed hostages told Gazeta.Ru that there were both men and women among the terrorists and the majority of them did not speak Russian.
''They talked to each other in some incomprehensible language. Only one of them talked to us in Russian. Without any threats he asked the assembly not to panic.'' Afterwards, the theatre-goers were divided into two groups – men and women were taken into opposite parts of the hall and asked to show their passports. After checking the documents, the terrorists started to release a few of the hostages – some foreigners and Muslims. The Chechens also released about 20 children.
Those in the hall who had mobile phones with them were allowed to make one call each. After this, the hostages were seated in the hall and the terrorists brought in boxes of anti-personnel mines. The terrorist who spoke Russian from time to time approached some of the hostages and asked them not to worry.
Some actors and theatre personnel, who were backstage when the hostage-taking started, managed to escape from the building. They threw a rope out of a second floor window and fled. Aleksei Ivashenko, one of the musical’s writers, injured his leg during the escape and was taken to hospital.
Shortly after midnight additional Interior Ministry troops arrived at the theatre. APCs blocked the main entrance. All the cars and buses parked near the theatre were evacuated from the scene. Snipers have occupied the roofs of the surrounding buildings; a move the authorities claimed was a standard security measure in such cases. The streetlights in the area went off around the theatre at around 01-10, but were switched back on soon afterwards. The police then widened the cordoned-off area and started evacuating people from nearby residential buildings.
18 buses from a nearby bus park arrived at the theatre around three in the morning. One of the drivers said that the vehicles were waiting for a possible evacuation of the hostages. Patients were also evacuated from a hospital close to the theatre complex.
Just before four o’clock, the terrorists released about 150 hostages. 19 more children were released, but reports say there are many more children as young as six in the building.
24 ОКТЯБРЯ 12:11