Chechen guerillas have killed at least one person taken hostage in a siege of a Moscow theater yesterday, according to authorities. The body of the victim, identified only as a 20-year-old woman who had been shot in the chest, was removed from the theater, CNN reported today. Her nationality was not divulged.
At least two Americans were among more than 700 audience members attending the popular musical Nord-Ost when camouflage-wearing men stormed the stage at the beginning of the second act. Authorities originally estimated that between 20 and 30 gunmen were involved in the siege but now believe that at least 30 audience members were also part of the plot.
After allowing some children, pregnant women, and Muslims to leave, the guerillas placed land mines throughout the theater and informed authorities that they were prepared to detonate the bombs and shoot hostages if police attempted to rush the building. Some hostages have subsequently escaped, including a few performers and crew members who barricaded themselves backstage at the beginning of the siege and managed to crawl through windows to freedom some time later.
The guerrillas are demanding that Russia withdraw troops from Chechnya, an oil-rich region in the Caucasus Mountains mostly populated by Muslims. Russian President Vladimir Putin has canceled several foreign trips to remain in Moscow and deal with the crisis. The Red Cross is now negotiating with the hostage-takers for the release of foreigners. Additionally, both the United States and United Kingdom have offered the services of hostage negotiation experts and other assistance.