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Russia in Mourning, Questions Deadly Tactics

Aired October 28, 2002 - 10:08   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Obviously, a lot of people in Russia want to know what was in that gas, and Russian officials, at this point, are not coming forward and saying specifically what was in the gas.
As we get new information about the rescue operation in Moscow, it is, of course, a day of mourning in Russia. People trying to come to terms with the loss of so many lives.

Mike Hanna is live in Moscow with the latest -- Mike.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, throughout the day, people have been coming here to a makeshift shrine outside the theater, where that Special Forces operation took place in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Politicians, ordinary Muscovites -- all coming along to lay flowers down here to remember the 117 people who died as a result of that hostage operation and the hostage crisis.

Of those 117 who died, 115 died of complications resulting from the inhalation of that gas or chemical agent that Special Forces pumped into the theater shortly before they stormed it early Saturday morning.

There are still some 400 people in the hospital, and outside many of the hospitals, friends and relatives are waiting for more news. Some friends and relatives saying that they do not even know if their loved ones are alive.

So, this morning, there's a mounting anger at the lack of information coming from the Russian authorities, lack of information as to what substance was used in that operation. Many questions being asked about that.

We heard there from Barbara Starr the supposition from the Pentagon that it was based on some kind of heroin or morphine-type structure. We have spoken to chemical experts here. Their information would appear to tie in with that -- that it was some kind of hallucinogenic, very possibly some kind of chemical weapon.

So, questions are going to be asked not only by Russians here as to why this substance was used, but also internationally as to exactly what is the substance, and does it contravene known chemical weapons protocols that are in place -- Anderson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): Bearing in mind the mounting threat of international terrorism and implying means comparable to weapons of mass destruction, the general staff will be instructed today to change the plans for using the armed forces. Russia will not reach any agreements with terrorists and will not yield to any sorts of blackmail.

International terrorism is becoming increasingly impudent and cruel. Threats to use means comparable to weapons of mass destruction are being made in various places of the world. If anyone tries to apply such means to our country, Russia will reply with measures adequate to the threats in all the locations of the terrorists, their organizations or their ideological and financial instigators.


HANNA: Well, that was President Vladimir Putin in a statement earlier today, taking very much a hard-line stance. On this day of national mourning, Putin had said that let us remember those who died by uniting. But Putin also making very clear in that statement that he sees this Chechen crisis here in Moscow as part of an international terrorism activity, saying that he will go after terrorists wherever they might be.

Still, the question remains, though: How and why was the substance used in this operation in the early hours of Saturday morning? And understanding among many Russians of the difficult position that the authorities found themselves in, the hostage-takers inside that theater had explosives strapped to their bodies, some of them. There were explosives piled in the theater. There had to be some kind of substance used that would immobilize them immediately. Well, it succeeded in that, but also it succeeded in leading directly to the deaths of 115 people -- Anderson.

COOPER: Mike, you point out, you know, that there is a lot of anger in Russia toward authorities right now. Is it anger that the gas was used at all? Or is it anger at the subsequent refusal by Russian authorities to acknowledge what the gas was, even to the doctors trying to treat these patients?

HANNA: That's a very good question, Anderson, and it is indeed anger at the lack of information that was given. Most Russians do understand the circumstances of this. They realize how critical, how complicated this hostage crisis was.

As I say, explosives in place from the beginning when they entered this crisis. The Russian authorities saying that it was a success in that 800 people did not die, is that the explosives were not detonated.

So, among Russians, there is an understanding of this. There is also a backing of President Putin's stance that under no circumstances can you bough down to the demands of terrorists. That is an attitude that is widely supported here in Russia.

However, that being said, the anger is directed at the lack of information that was given in the wake of the operation, the fact that some of those who died could have been saved if information had been given to the doctors as to exactly what chemical substance was used.

COOPER: All right, Mike Hanna, thanks very much.


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