On what was supposed to have been an entertaining evening at a sold-out presentation of a popular musical in Russia, roughly fifty Chechen rebels rush in and storm a theater in Moscow while holding up to seven-hundred patrons hostage. October 23rd, 2002 would be a date in history that many people won’t soon forget.
The musical “Nord Ost” was being performed at the Moscow Ball-Bearing Plant’s Palace of Culture and as the second act was just starting when an armed man suddenly appeared onstage and began shooting his machine gun into the air. The terrorists announced that they were part of the Chechen Army which included several women who appeared to have strapped to their bodies a number of explosives. Their agenda became clear as they had only one demand which was for Russian military forces to begin a total and quick retreat from Chechnya, the war-ravaged area that lies north of the Caucasus Mountains.
Chechnya contained a large population of Muslims and had struggled for a long time to achieve their independence. In 1996, a disastrous war of two years ended but three years later, Russian troops came back to the area as a result of Russian authorities accused Chechens for a number of bombings that occurred in Russia. President Vladimir Putin was elected in 2000 and part of the reason had to do with his public vow never to negotiate with terrorists and his hard-lined position towards Chechnya.
Two of the hostages were murdered during the fifty-seven-hour-standoff at the Palace of Culture and finally Russian Special Forces decided to surround the theater on the morning of October 26th and initiate a raid on it. Their plan, which was later revealed, was before breaking into the roof and the walls and eventually entering the building through the underground sewage tunnels, a powerful narcotic gas was pumped inside that nearly knocked all of the hostages and terrorists unconscious. The majority of the guerrillas were killed during the raid but sadly one-hundred-and-twenty hostages also had perished. Security forces had to later defend the choice of using the harmful gas by saying that the only chance to disarm the terrorists before their explosives could be detonated was to launch a total surprise attack.
The result of the incident at the theater was that Putin had the government take more aggressive action toward Chechnya by drawing accusations of torture, kidnapping and other atrocities. If Putin thought Chechnya would give up and surrender, he was sorely mistaken. The response from Chechen rebels was to launch more attacks on Russian land which consisted of an alleged suicide bombing in February of 2004 in a Moscow subway. Also, another attack was committed against Russia in September of the same year at a Beslan school which involved another serious hostage situation.