European court finds Russia botched theatre siege rescue
The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that Russia botched the rescue of hostages during the 2002 Moscow theatre siege by Chechen rebels that left 130 civilians dead.
The Strasbourg-based court found that Russia was right to end the standoff by force, using gas against the hostage-takers who were then killed, but it said too little care was taken to evacuate and treat the hostages.
The panel of judges found that "the Russian authorities had not taken all feasible precautions to minimise the loss of civilian life as the rescue operation had been inadequately prepared and carried out".
It ordered Russia to pay the 64 applicants, a group of survivors of the siege and victims' relatives, a total of 1.25 million euros ($1.64 million) plus expenses.
The dramatic standoff started when more than 40 Chechen separatist fighters stormed Moscow's Dubrovka theatre on October 23, 2002 holding around 900 people at gunpoint and booby-trapping the site.
The attackers demanded that Russian troops pull out of Chechnya.
After three days of tense negotiations, during which several hostages were killed, a Russian special squad pumped a narcotic gas into the building and then stormed it, shooting dead all hostage-takers.
While most of the remaining hostages were freed, another 125 died either on the spot, or on their way to hospitals or shortly after their arrival.
The group which brought and won the lawsuit against Russia "claimed that the rescue operation was chaotic on all fronts", the court in a statement.
It said that "unconscious hostages were piled up on the ground outside the building with some of them dying simply because they were laid on their backs and suffocated on their own vomit or tongues".
It also quoted applicants as saying that "there were not enough ambulances, so the hostages were transported to hospitals in ordinary city buses without medical staff and without any assistance from traffic police."
The court added that "the medical staff in the hospitals were not equipped to receive so many victims, had not been informed of the use of gas or its properties and did not have appropriate equipment".
"Furthermore, the rescue teams, ambulances and hospitals had not had enough Nalaxone, the antidote to the gas, in stock," said the court, adding that Russia had never revealed the formula of the gas.
© 2011 AFP