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An FSB officer who participated in the operation at Dubrovka tells about the events
Written by   
, 22 2003

By Elena Loriya

22.10.2003

In Izvestiya

A year ago this man showed up at Dubrovka a half hour after the capture of the hostages. He entered the auditorium right after the Alpha group soldiers, and did not leave until a day after the assault. For many months afterwards he searched for any gunmen who may have managed to escape, collected information about newly planned terrorist attacks, and analyzed what the cause of death was for such a large number of people. Now he is certain that Alpha (Russian special forces unit ed.) did everything with precision, but had the other services acted with as much precision and organization then the memorial plaque dedicated to victims of this act of terror would have contained a lot fewer names.

We will call him Ilya. He is an officer in one of the operational detachments of the FSB (Russian security service ed.) He has taken part in many a special operation in the Caucasus and in other restive places, but he thinks about Nord-Ost quite often, and a lot more often than he wishes.

Ilya recalls everything practically to the minute, but several events are imprinted in his memory especially clearly:

here someone thumps the back of the chair into which he had plopped down to get a few minutes rest before the assault. Its time! While here, one of the hostages seizes the opportunity to run from the auditorium. Hesaves himself when that ancient instinct, the instinct of self-preservation, goes to work. But his son remains in the hall sitting next to the suicide martyrs women and their deadly belts.

Ilya also recalls a girl whose braid was hanging on his shoulder. She was snoring from the gas that they had released into the hall before the assault, and he carried her out while she was deep in a dream.

Ilya: On the evening of the 23rd Iwas sitting in the Black Bull bar. An acquaintance phoned me and said: Its my birthday today, so Im expecting you! I said that Id come, but then suddenly the news came on the television in the bar. I called her back and said sorry dear, but youre birthdays been cancelled.

Ilya spent 5days at Dubrovka. Even after the departure of Alpha, he still had a lot to do.

Ilya: I didnt leave until Sunday at two. I had get home right away to clean up, shave, and get dressed to go to the Kremlin. Putin had summoned everyone to a meeting.

There was no alternative only an assault

It is the night before the anniversary of the capture of Dubrovka, and we are sitting here with Ilya in my kitchen and drinking coffee. Everything is sort of peaceful, and the television is on in the background. It seems as if Nord-Ost was only yesterday. The memories are still fresh, only we have different ones. As a journalist Iwas behind the police cordon. Ilya was in the headquarters at first, then later in the auditorium where frightened, emaciated, and deathly tired hostages were sitting. 800 of them.

Elena Loriya: Ilya, a year has passed. One should be able to soberly evaluate everything. Was there even a need for an assault?

Ilya: Back then, and still now, Iwas certain of one thing: the assault was necessary. There was no other way out. This was an unprecedented excursion by the terrorists. Imagine if the Russian government had given in and negotiated, especially considering that Barayev was a nobody. It wasnt even he who was making the decisions about what and how to do things, and if the gunmens aims had come off, and they held direct negotiations with the Russian government, or even if they managed to bring this to the attention of the public and pressure was put on Putin, as a result we could expect the collapse of the Russian Federation. This isnt an exaggeration.

And in the near future we would see a new war in the Caucasus, only this time it would be an attempt to bring about Greater Cherkesia Kabarda, Cherkesia, Adygea, yes and even an outlet on the Black Sea with the acquisition of Abkhasia. It would be much worse than the Chechen war!

But with regards to the assault, it was a very difficult situation. Imagine a large auditorium, but with a very limited area to make a covert entry, especially for anti-terrorism activities. With this many people all in one place thered have been massive numbers of deaths. Even without the bombs going off, since the suicide martyrs were not all together, but in various corners.

Elena Loriya: Whose idea was the gas?

I dont know. We were always getting calls from former special operations people with their suggestions: we had to do it this way or that way. Consultants. But honestly, even we didnt know that they were going use gas. This is the way that it should be. Suchthings should only be known to those who would be the first to go in. By those who were making the assault. So Idont know the author of the idea, and Ihope that Idont ever find out. Why place a man in jeopardy? The terrorists had relatives, and they have a long memory.

By the way, the Alphas who stormed the DK (Dubrovka theatrical complex ed.) didnt have any antidotes on them, or gasmasks, and the gas didnt have an effect on them. Right away they broke all the glass, opened all the doors, and switched on the ventilation and quickly aired out the premises. This is because it wasnt a narcotic, but a sleep-inducing gas, and if theyd given the hostages timely medically assistance, we could have avoided so many deaths.

Elena Loriya: But many of the gunmen had respirators. Also a good question: whered they get them? There is talk about an information leak. You say that you dont know the author of the idea, but can you at least say if theyve ever used this gas before Nord-Ost?

Ilya: No, they never used it anywhere. This was the first time. The gas was in fact relatively harmless, but only when used in precisely localized activities. It was not a narcotic. This gas was only sleep-inducing. The mission was to simply destroy all the suicide martyrs and gunmen so that no one cold set off the explosives.

The suicide-martyrs were simply zombies

Elena Loriya: Did you see the suicide-martyr women close up?

Ilya: Of course. These were mostly young girls. Naturally there was an old, fat auntie who stood out. Even Iwas surprised at first. What was she doing there? Later it turned out that this was Barayevs mother-in-law.

Elena Loriya: Well, but why did these young and pretty girls have to get caught up in all this?

Ilya: Many were simply zombies. They were, after all, very young girls. Someone had forced them to come to Moscow.

And do you know what? The father of one of these suicide martyrs turned to the prosecutors office about it. One time, back during the first Chechen war, he went to Baku with his family, but when the war ended he got a passport through the Russian embassy and returned to Chechnya. Once there they started to snub him because of it. They told his daughter that if she didnt agree (to become a martyr ed.) then they would kill her whole family because they had supposedly worked for the Russian authorities.

Her father didnt even know where shed gone off to. Then later he saw her on television. Now he wants to get to the bottom of who took away his daughter and why. Its a normal fatherly reaction. To us she may be a terrorist, but for him shes a dead child.

Love Story

Elena Loriya: I know that they managed to get a few hostages out before the assault. How was this?

Ilya: I was there from the very start, and after we had gotten some listening equipment we started to hear who was saying what. The hostages were calling their relatives to calm them down: everything is okay, Im alive. We had a hotline at this time running and the relatives were calling us and we were getting the hostages phone numbers from them, then later we called the hostages up. This was at the beginning, when the gunmen still hadnt taken away the cell phones. Using the floor plan of the auditorium, we noted who was sitting were, how many other hostages were nearby, and were the gunmen distant. As the opportunity allowed, we asked what the situation was.

And because we had these phones we were able to get several hostages out. Im not talking about those who were on the second floor and got out on their own. Heres one case: suddenly some man showed up. We grabbed him: who are you? He says hes the security guard and says he was there and he shows us how he got out. I look at the floor plan, and Icall one of the hostages, Anechka. I tell her that its possible to get out. She says that there were 9people with her. So Iguided her: walk to the right, to the left, straight ahead. Seven got out, and after the last one left, one of the terrorists on the roof saw a shadow and opened fire, and a fellow from Alpha who was covering the hostages was hit. His shoulder blade was splintered.

But do you know whom he saved? I was told a remarkable story. After the assault, in the hospital, one of the hostages went over to one of the wounded soldiers to say thank you, and as a gesture of gratitude she offered to introduce him to her young and pretty daughter. He was already married, but he introduced his brother to this girl, and later those two got married.

The one with the wounded shoulder blade is the Alpha-team member whose brother married the hostages daughter.

Elena Loriya: A beautiful story, but, perhaps, the only one. The others were much sadder. Is it generally permitted that special forces soldiers meet the ones theyve rescued?

Ilya: On the hostages part there wasnt a single such impulse, and the Alphas arent likely to go find someone theyve rescued, though there was one such situation. When they were spreading out all the peoples belongings and documents, so they could find their things, one of our boys looked at a passport and said: Oh wow! She lives right next door to me!

But in general none of us expects any gratitude. Our people arent spoiled and are very humble in this regard, and if it did happen, then it would be the only such case in an Alphas life, and he perhaps might go looking for this person to simply see how the person was making out. But if it were to happen to the boys regularly

Our medicine turned out to be unprepared

Elena Loriya: You say that the assault was necessary and Alpha worked with precision. Why then were there so many dead bodies?

Ilya: I figured things up back then. Before the beginning of the assault there were exactly 20wounded and dead among the hostages. These were those whom the gunmen shot or stabbed. At the end of the assault Icounted 29persons. By worldwide evaluation of such special operations, the normal losses in such an operation are around 30percent. In the auditorium were more than 800people. That means that the allowable losses would have been about 300. We didnt even have a 100die. But now Ill explain why there were so many deaths.

The medics and the MChS (Emergencies ministry ed.) people worked poorly. Everyone knew that thered be an assault. When it would be, of course, no one knew, but they had ample time to prepare. For some reason, right after the assault, it was not rescuers and doctors who ran in after us, but doctors in epaulets. They carried boxes of antidote and right away they said where and whom and how much to inject, but the Alphas who had neutralized the terrorists were carrying the wounded outside. I only saw one MChS man right after the assault. He ran around with a camera and took pictures of how the others were working, and when we went over to their vehicle and said boys give us a hand, we just dont have enough people, they said: we cant get through. That was their argument.

Before the start of the assault they should have alerted all the medical personnel at the nearest hospitals in Muscovy. There were a lot of people to carry casualties to the buses. Even old ladies were carrying the injured.

But what prevented them from bringing stretchers? They carried people in their arms, over their shoulders, while everyones dimensions are different. The bodies were relaxed since the people were sleeping. You pick them up and their outer clothing falls off, no matter how you take them, everything in general falls off, except for their underwear. Why did they have to put them out on the asphalt naked? It was raining, after all, and it was cold out.

What prevented them from alerting a team of mechanics so that they could take the seats out of the buses that were standing there in line? Try to put a sleeping person into a seat. He simply falls out! They should have put down mats and mattresses. They could have put up some tents on Volgograd Square. Many were dying without ever getting assistance, lying there in the corridors of hospitals. Peoples tongues lolled back and they suffocated. The real losses could have been very small. Just the heart patients, and those with high blood pressure, or epileptics, would have died. But there at the theater were mostly the young and healthy.

The FSBs mission was to free the hostages and neutralize the terrorists. All the rest was the responsibility of other people. Before the assault Alpha did some training at the Meridian theatrical center. What prevented the rescuers and doctors from doing this as well?

Let the hostages be paid out of Basayevs funds

Elena Loriya: A year has passed and people have forgotten about the hostages. Should we pay them compensation?

Ilya: Why shouldnt we give them material assistance? We dont even need any money from the budget! For example, the English seized Basayevs bank accounts. What is preventing them from paying the hostages compensation out of this money? He took upon himself the responsibility. He declared that he was in charge of the process. Let him pay!

In general, of all the members of the parliament who Imet there at Dubrovka, the only one who conducted themselves adequately and worthily was Mizulina. She came to me on the very first night and said she was so and so and asked what could be done. I said: well, nothing. Later she came again and Itold her that if she really wanted to help then she should go to the relatives of the hostages and calm them down. Id give her some people who would report the news, while she would remove the stress. And she stayed there with her assistant Gelya to the very end, to the end of the assault. She talked to them and calmed them down, and never in front of any cameras.

Elena Loriya: They provided the hostages with at least some kind of psychological assistance. How about you?

Ilya: In the long run we dont have a normal course of rehabilitation, and even that, which they have, you cant make it though it. Now, of course, theyve started to do more about this, but during the time of the first Chechen war there wasnt anything.

Elena Loriya: But such things dont pass without leaving their mark.

Ilya: They dont pass. At first Iwas dreaming about it all the time. Sometimes it was like rewinding a tape. Sometimes Idreamed of completely different scenarios of how the events turned out, but one of the biggest impressions that remain in my memory, perhaps, is the lady cop who was shot. Either she just couldnt believe what was happening, or she simply tried to scold the terrorists. They silently led her out and shot her. I also remember the man who ran out of the hall when he got the chance, but left his son. You cant forget these things.

Elena Loriya: After Nord-Ost did anyone write a dissertation?

Ilya: I think so. Im sure that theyre doing this, yes, and my foreign colleagues were very interested in the operation, the Austrians and the Germans. They have no similar experience.

Elena Loriya: Has the operation entered the annals of the special forces?

Ilya: Yes, and whats more, as successful, and I've told you already why.

 
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