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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Armed Men Hold Russian Theater Audience Hostage

Aired October 23, 2002 - 15:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A bit of breaking news for you: reports we have been telling you about this afternoon of armed men entering, perhaps as many as 20 of them, entering a theater in Moscow with their guns blazing and holding hostage between 500 and 700 people who had been attending a musical there.
On the scene for us right now is our producer and correspondent Ryan Chilcote.

Ryan, what can you tell us?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm standing in front of the theater right now, Miles.

I can tell you that what's happened new in this situation, very fluid situation here, is, a couple hundred interior troops have moved in, actually literally shoving me back a few meters, but a very heavy now military presence on the scene, adding to the already very serious police presence.

What we understand is that these -- between 30 and 20 gunmen opened fire as they entered the theater, took everybody in the theater hostage. And, like you said, that's between 500 -- we understand 500 and 700 people. Subsequently, according to reports from inside the theater, they let the children go out of the theater.

And right now, like I said, I'm with Russian forces about 100 meters away from the theater, where they are obviously staging some kind of action here. If nothing else, they're obviously taking control of the surrounding area in a very, very serious fashion here -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Ryan, I'm going to put you on the spot a little bit. There are some reports on the wires here that, in addition to children, these hostage-takers allowed Muslims to leave the theater. Do you have any independent confirmation of that?

CHILCOTE: Miles, obviously, I certainly wish I did, but a very chaotic scene here.

And where I am, with my bird's-eye view here, it's very difficult to tell what's going on inside. None of the security officials that I'm surrounded by want to talk to the press. They're in a very tactical mind, if you will, here. They're thinking about how to free those 500 people. They're not giving any details about what's going on inside.

We do know that they have a cell phone contact with these gunmen inside the building -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: One other point that came up as well is that there is a report coming from one of the children who was released, apparently, who indicated that perhaps they were sympathetic to Chechen rebels. Is that what you're surmising at this juncture?

CHILCOTE: Well, it's impossible to say and I would hesitate to speculate.

But, obviously, there is a very long history of very strained relations between Russians and Chechens. There is a war right now inside Russia in the Republic of Chechnya that's been going on since 1999. And Moscow has been the scene of several terrorist bombings, including some very large terrorist bombings back in 1999 that actually served as the pretext to that most recent war in Chechnya, killing hundreds of Russians here in the city.

So Russians are used to these kind of events -- back to you, Miles.

O'BRIEN: One other thought to bring out here. We do know that there were some shots fired, according to witnesses inside, in the air. Do we have any reports of any injuries, Ryan?

CHILCOTE: No reports of any injuries, Miles.

But I can tell you that, in addition to those shots, there was actually shots coming out of the building. I personally heard five gunshots. Actually, we believe that -- I was standing next to a group of sort of Russians standing on the scene watching this on the street. And we believe that they were firing in our direction, as those bullets ricocheted just behind us, five gunshots coming from inside the theater, from the lobby area, if you will, in our direction.

So there has actually been quite a bit of gunfire here

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