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JournalistA.Rafayenko tells hisstory
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, 25 2002
In ‘Moskovskaya Pravda’
The theatrical center of the Moscow state ball bearing plant was submerged in the light of street lamps. Scattered in various directions along the facades of nearby buildings were security service commandos.
Snipers occupied the heights around the perimeter of the target. Thepolice hastily blocked off the street, set up a police cordon, and restored order. Audible above the focused, excited buzz of human voices were the cries of children: scared, coatless kids, wandering among the journalists, onlookers, and security officers, calling up their parents.
They were the first to see the terrorists. Theywere the first to experience the panic. Theywere the first to leave that terrible place, and they were the last to understand anything:
“Daddy, Daddy! I’m calling you on my cell phone. Bandits grabbed Mom! Dad, Idon’t know. Idon’t know. Where am I? Theylet us go. Dad, I’m sorry”
The little hostages were still keeping together. Theyhuddled in a heap, and cautiously pressed the adults, naively asking why “the soldiers with the guns” would not go and get their parents released. 11-year-old Denis Afanasyev kept a stiff upper lip and in a serious tone told a reporter from ‘MP’ what happened in the concert hall:
“We were watching the show when a man ran onstage with a gun. Heshouted that the building was seized and began shooting in the air. Thegirls started crying. Thencame a lot of people wearing masks and carrying guns, even women, and they told us to shut up and don’t move. Their boss said we could make one phone call, and he promised to let the kids under 13go. Myparents said to get out fast, but they didn’t let go a lot of us who looked older. Theydidn’t let us get our coats. Theyjust opened the doors and chased us out.”
Meanwhile, the police cordon has been sealed, and journalists, rather roughly, pushed from the scene. Acorrespondent from ‘MP’ and some colleagues managed to “reinforce themselves” inside an apartment in a building facing the right side of the fateful theater. Thewindows offered an excellent view of the parking lot in front of theatrical center, and the facade and roof of nearly every surrounding house was visible.
Looking out the windows, we understood how the criminals entered the concert complex. Theydrove up from two directions in three minibuses two foreign makes and a ‘Gazel’. These can accommodate 25−30. Theterrorists acted quickly: they leaped from the vehicles and in the wink of an eye ran inside, through the main entrance. Oneof their vehicles was still running. Iam getting ahead of myself, when Isay that for eight hours no one would touch the minivan with the open doors and running engine security officials feared fire from the building, or a bomb. Itwas not until five in the morning, when a man in a dark jacket with a dog came by. Heinspected the van, turned off the engine, and then walked inside the main entrance of the theater. Tenminutes later he shot out of there like a bullet.
I also saw how the assault team set up a foothold in front of the theater. Asquad of commandos infiltrated an adjacent building, the Institute of Man, where our ‘MP’ cameraman was located. Despite the glare of the lights, you could see the group sneaking along an overhead street crossing.
I was made aware that the terrorists continue to release children and the sick, but these apparently were not from the main entrance. Athalf-past eleven, however, a man in a sweater exited the central door, with his hands behind his head. Hepassed through the parking lot and was met by the police. Soonafterward, another man appeared in the parking lot. Hedid not hide, and walked between the cars, and looked inside the still-running foreign-made microbus. Hethen headed toward #1t Dubrovka Street. Hisidentity is not known, and it is not known who was led away by policemen.
I managed quite by accident to find out what was going on inside. Going out into the stairwell, Iencountered a company of young men who had come to rescue a girlfriend in the hands of the criminals. Theboys managed to talk with 17-year-old Sveta a few times. Iwas witness to one such conversation:
“Hello, Svetka! Howare you there?”
“So-so. I’m sitting here with another girl. Nextto us is a bomb. Theysaid that if the police make an assault they’ll blow it up.”
"Svet, aren’t they going to let you go?”
“Definitely not me. They’re now going to release pregnant women. Whenare they going to rescue us?”
“I don’t know. We’re really worried. Youjust hold on and don’t provoke them. Arethere a lot of bandits?”
“It’s hard to count: 20, maybe more. Several women. They’re mean. Everyone’s covered in grenades. Ican’t say anything else”
A few minutes later there were bursts of gunfire outside. Aterrorist was shooting at cars from the translucent stained-glass doors of the theater. Apparently, the activities of the commandos irritated the criminal. Soonthe area in front of the theatrical center was completely clear. Theassault group pulled back, and the armored vehicles also left the line of fire. Thepolice cordon pushed reporters and onlookers even further away.
The terrorists released a pregnant woman. Reeling, she turned onto Melnikov Street, where detectives immediately picked her up. Atliterally the same moment, law enforcement officials began going around apartments. Thepolice officers were searching for the media. “Are there any journalists?” The intonation the officer used while asking our hostess reminded me of a raid on guerrillas in Belarus during the summer of 1942. Fortunately, we went unnoticed and listened to the instructions the police supplied the household:
“Don’t panic. Turnoff the lights in the apartment, draw the curtains, and don't go to the window. Beprepared for immediate evacuation.”
Several times a firefight started up, but it was not known who shot at whom, and in any case the representatives of law enforcement agencies did not comment on the shooting. During my watch Icounted six hostages freed. Sometimes into my zone of visibility there would appear mysterious persons. Agirl, who walked freely through the parking lot and went inside the building, was particularly intriguing. Idid not see that she ever left.
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