A scene from Nord-Ost
A scene from Nord-Ost
A group of 20-30 armed men stormed a theater in Moscow today during a performance of the musical Nord-Ost ("North-East"). Based on the classic Soviet-era novel Two Captains by Veniamin Kaverin, the musical is a popular family show that has played to more than 350,000 ticket holders to date.

According to an Interfax news agency employee who happened to be in the theater during the siege, the gunmen burst in around 9pm Russian time, wearing camouflage clothing and firing semi-automatic weapons into the air. After saying that they were Chechen, members of a small group of Muslims in southern Russia, they reportedly allowed approximately 150 audience members to leave, including children and Muslims, but kept some 700 other audience members hostages.

The men also revealed that they had explosives strapped to their bodies and began placing bombs throughout the building. Some reports indicate that the gunmen plan to kill 10 hostages for every casualty they suffer in the ongoing dispute over their region's call for independence.

United Press International reported that five actors managed to escape but the fate of the rest of the performers, crew, and orchestra members remains unclear as of this writing. Although CNN reports that the gunmen have called for "an end to war," the Russian government has not said if they have issued more specific demands.