Terror in Moscow

Terror in Moscow

In October 2002, 41 Chechen terrorists took more than 700 people hostage in a Moscow theater, demanding an end to Russia's war against their homeland. This gut-wrenching documentary takes you through the endless hours of waiting, a seemingly miraculous rescue operation, and the ultimate tragedy, that could have been avoided had adequate medical personnel been on the scene after the stalemate ended.

Never in history has a terrorist act been so fully and dramatically recorded while it was in progress. In October 2002, 41 Chechen terrorists took more than 700 people hostage in a Moscow theater, demanding an end to Russia's war against their homeland. Using dramatic first-person interviews with survivors, as well as remarkable video footage shot inside the theater by the terrorists, the America Undercover documentary special TERROR IN MOSCOW tells this gripping story from siege to rescue to tragic aftermath. TERROR IN MOSCOW includes intimate, first-hand video footage shot by a stagehand and by a Chechen gunman, as well as recordings of cell phone calls from hostages and news footage from outside the theater.

On a drizzly Wednesday evening, the second half of a musical had just begun for an audience of about 700 people when a man in military fatigues took the stage. Theatergoers initially believed him to be an actor, but realized otherwise when the 41 Muslim Chechen separatists - 22 men and 19 veiled women - sealed off the building, demanding withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya, which had declared its independence in 1991. Each of the women was heavily wired with explosives, while the men were armed with pistols and automatic rifles.

Shortly thereafter, the Russian military sealed off surrounding streets, proclaiming that they would make no deals. Then the first in a series of unexpected twists occurred. A young shop assistant, apparently drunk, broke through the police cordon and entered the building, where she taunted the Chechens and encouraged the audience to rise up against their captors. The Chechens shot her to death, and a numbing fear swept through the theater as the hostages realized the true extent of their helplessness.

After more than two days, Russian troops finally made a move early Saturday morning, releasing a powerful anesthetic gas blended with an aerosol spray into the theater, which rendered the gunmen and hostages unconscious. Troops entered the theater, executing every terrorist, including the 19 unconscious women who had never received orders to detonate their bombs. While no hostages died during the siege, the rescue turned deadly - the experimental gas proved lethal, and although antidotes exist, there weren't enough medical personnel on hand to attend to everyone. This shocking oversight led to the deaths of 129 hostages, many of whom choked on their tongues or their own vomit after being laid in the street, flat on their backs. What had seemed like a miraculous Russian victory ended tragically.

TERROR IN MOSCOW is produced and directed by Dan Reed; produced by Mark Franchetti; executive producer, George Carey; narrated by Ian McShane. For HBO: supervising producer, Nancy Abraham; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.
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Frank Kitman