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A botched rescue ends 'Terror in Moscow'

October 23, 2003|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

On a drizzly Wednesday night in Moscow one year ago, the second half of the musical had just begun when a man in military fatigues took the stage.

The audience of about 700 initially thought he was an actor, but realized otherwise when he and 40 other terrorists sealed off the building, demanding withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. The 22 Chechen men were armed with pistols and automatic rifles, and the 19 women wore belt bombs, ready to shred the building at a moment's notice.

"Terror in Moscow" (7 p.m., HBO), an "America Undercover" documentary that tells this story from siege to rescue to tragic aftermath, is hard to watch. But it is almost impossible to turn away from.

The film, by producer-director Dan Reed, producer Mark Franchetti and executive producer George Carey, combines survivor interviews with on-the-spot video shot by the terrorists and a stagehand to vividly recount the ordeal.

After the Russian military sealed off the surrounding streets, proclaiming that there would be no deal, came the next surreal twist: A 26-year-old shop clerk, apparently drunk, broke through the cordon and entered the theater, taunting the Chechens and urging the captives to rise up against them. The separatists shot her to death, and a silence fell over the auditorium.

After more than two days, the Russian troops made their move, releasing anesthetic gas into the theater and executing the terrorists.

But the experimental gas proved lethal, and the Russians botched the rescue with insufficient medical personnel to attend to the captives or administer antidote.

When 129 of the captives died, a heroic ending turned tragic.

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