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Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Lessons Learned from a Terrorist Attack in a Moscow Theater (Yevgeny Kolesnikov)." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Roots and Trajectories of Violent Extremism and Terrorism: A Cooperative Program of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences (1995-2020). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26281.
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Appendix C

Lessons Learned from a Terrorist Attack in a Moscow Theater

Yevgeny Kolesnikov
Russian Federal Security Service

This is a portion of a report prepared by the Russian government pursuant to a request from the National Academy of Sciences for an authoritative governmental perspective on the attack. It was widely accepted by Russian and American terrorism experts as a reasonable account of the horrific incident and provides important details of key issues that had previously been controversial.

On October 23, 2002, a band of terrorists led by Chechen field commander Movsar Barayev seized the Palace of Culture of the Moscow Ball-Bearing Factory, where more than 920 people were attending a performance of the musical Nord-Ost. The Russian government immediately set up an operations center involving many government agencies near the site to oversee the government’s response and to keep the public informed as the incident unfolded. The operations center ascertained the existence of a facility with a physical structure identical to the structure of the Palace of Culture that provided a base for practicing for an operation at the Palace.

Initially, storming of the building to rescue the hostages was not seen as the only option. The preferred approach by the operations center was to remove the terrorists on the basis of negotiations. As the result of initial negotiations, several groups of hostages were released, including some children under the age of 10. Also, after a careful search for hiding places in the external walls of the Palace and emergence of other routes out of the

Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Lessons Learned from a Terrorist Attack in a Moscow Theater (Yevgeny Kolesnikov)." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Roots and Trajectories of Violent Extremism and Terrorism: A Cooperative Program of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences (1995-2020). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26281.
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Palace, 113 people were safe before the security services eventually stormed the building. This included 69 who escaped and 44 who were rescued.

All the while, the terrorists were pressuring the hostages through various forms of psychological fear. For example, the terrorists successfully demanded that relatives of some of the hostages organize and attend protest demonstrations in Moscow calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and the granting of independence to the republic. But agreement on a peaceful ending of the standoff was not at hand. Four hostages were then shot, and the chance of a peaceful outcome was reduced to zero.

At that time, 35 to 40 terrorists were holding the hostages in the auditorium of the Palace. Powerful explosive devices had been placed in the center of the hallway and in the balcony of the auditorium, with mines put on the stage aimed at the audience. Fifteen to 18 female suicide bombers wearing belts with explosive devices were deployed around the perimeters of the auditorium and in the center of the seating area.

The forward deployment of the government assault teams was preceded by release into the building of special Fentanyl–based gas that had been widely used during surgery in Russia and in other countries. It was known to facilitate temporary reduction of movements of patients without threatening their lives or health.

During the special operation that followed, 41 fighters under the command of the Chechen field leader were killed. More than 750 hostages were freed, including 60 foreigners. However, while emergency medical assistance was provided to all hostages who needed assistance, 129 died, including 8 foreigners. Russian health-care specialists had accurately predicted that there would be some deaths from stress, hypodynamia, hunger, dehydration, and exacerbation of preexisting illnesses.

The arsenal of weapons available to the terrorists was extensive. It included 76 kilograms of explosives, 17 automatic rifles, 20 hand guns, 25 homemade explosive devices, many suicide belts, 2 homemade bombs in the form of metallic tanks filled with artillery shells, 106 grenades, and more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition.

Evidence gathered during investigation of the incident included documentation of repeated attempts to force the Russian leadership to hold talks with the leadership of the rebels in Chechnya. A prerecorded message that was broadcast by Al Jazeera was found. Telephone calls to force relatives of hostages to sign appeals to the Russian president were uncovered. A well-developed press campaign in parallel with the incident was also discovered.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Lessons Learned from a Terrorist Attack in a Moscow Theater (Yevgeny Kolesnikov)." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Roots and Trajectories of Violent Extremism and Terrorism: A Cooperative Program of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences (1995-2020). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26281.
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The Russian government had considerable difficulties in working with the media during the event. Some journalists covered the event in a tendentious manner and used the activity for their own particular aims. The Russian government underscored that it must continue to work with journalists in improving relations during such situations.

Russia is ready to do everything in its power to (a) disseminate the experience it has gained in conducting such hostage rescue operations, (b) exchange information on the weapons and equipment used, and (c) organize joint training exercises for both command and special operations units.

Finally, the evidence that was gathered during the investigation of the incident illustrated the link between this crime and the designs of the ideologists of international terrorists who plan and finance broad-scale terrorism acts throughout the world. The methods used in implementing the preparatory phase and in the act of hostage taking were characteristic of those used by extremists organizations associated with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other criminal groups espousing terrorism and violence as a means to achieving their goals. Also at the national level, expert assessments have established that the types of homemade explosives devices used both in the Nord-Ost incident and a car bombing at a McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow a few months earlier were identical.

For additional information: Kolesnikov, Y. A. 2004. “Lessons Learned from the Nord-Ost Terrorist Attack in Moscow from the Standpoint of Russian Security and Law Enforcement Agencies,” in Terrorism: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Improving Responses: U.S.-Russian Workshop Proceedings. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Lessons Learned from a Terrorist Attack in a Moscow Theater (Yevgeny Kolesnikov)." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Roots and Trajectories of Violent Extremism and Terrorism: A Cooperative Program of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences (1995-2020). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26281.
×

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Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Lessons Learned from a Terrorist Attack in a Moscow Theater (Yevgeny Kolesnikov)." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Roots and Trajectories of Violent Extremism and Terrorism: A Cooperative Program of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences (1995-2020). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26281.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Lessons Learned from a Terrorist Attack in a Moscow Theater (Yevgeny Kolesnikov)." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Roots and Trajectories of Violent Extremism and Terrorism: A Cooperative Program of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences (1995-2020). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26281.
×
Page118
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Lessons Learned from a Terrorist Attack in a Moscow Theater (Yevgeny Kolesnikov)." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Roots and Trajectories of Violent Extremism and Terrorism: A Cooperative Program of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences (1995-2020). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26281.
×
Page119
Suggested Citation:"Appendix C: Lessons Learned from a Terrorist Attack in a Moscow Theater (Yevgeny Kolesnikov)." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Roots and Trajectories of Violent Extremism and Terrorism: A Cooperative Program of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences (1995-2020). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26281.
×
Page120
Next: Appendix D: Terrorist Attack at a School in the North Caucasus (Gennady Kovalenko) »
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During the past 25 years, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in collaboration with the Russian Academy of Sciences, have carried out a wide variety of activities to improve understanding of the challenges in containing and reducing ethnic conflicts, violent extremism, and terrorism. Roots and Trajectories of Violent Extremism and Terrorism provides an overview of this cross-ocean program, which has involved American and Russian scientists, engineers, and medical professionals from a large number of government agencies, leading research institutions, think tanks, educational institutions, analytical centers, and consulting and commercial firms in the two countries. This report highlights challenges addressed by the academies over many years that remain of current interest as the U.S., Russian, and other governments continue to cope with old and new forms of aggression that threaten the livelihood of populations at home and abroad.

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