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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fatal Rescue Saved Lives, Police Say

Interior Ministry officials on Monday defended an assault on hijackers that left four hostages dead in southern Russia last week, saying police actions had prevented more deaths.


The hostages died when a hijacker detonated a hand grenade inside the helicopter where they were being held at the resort town of Mineralniye Vody, just as special police forces attempted to rescue the captives. One of the four hijackers also died in the explosion, and at least a dozen hostages and police officers were wounded. Earlier official reports had put the hostage death toll at five.


Officials on Monday played a videotape of the rescue attempt early Friday showing troops attacking the hijackers' helicopter from all sides, quickly entering the aircraft from the back and swinging open a side door. One of the hijackers tossed a hand grenade into the cabin and jumped out. A fierce explosion set the helicopter ablaze within seconds.


Russian newspapers over the weekend criticized the Interior Ministry's handling of the crisis, pointing at the safe release of hostages in three previous hijackings at Mineralniye Vody. All three standoffs ended with the capture of the hijackers after they had been paid ransoms and given helicopters to escape. But police officials maintained on Monday that last week's hijacking could have ended far worse if they had not used force.


"They had no plans to end it peacefully," Deputy Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, who headed a crisis team that negotiated with the hijackers last week, told a press conference. "The terrorists were extremely aggressive."


Kulikov said that officials had decided to send in troops when they heard one of the hostages had been killed, adding: "The hijackers had become unpredictable."


Another motivation for the attack was that the neighboring breakaway region of Chechnya, home to all of the suspects in four recent hijackings, had announced it would shoot down any Russian helicopter entering its airspace, Kulikov said.


In two earlier hijackings in the region, the kidnappers were arrested by Russian troops after they had fled to Chechnya.


Kulikov said officials feared that the hijackers would be able to escape once their helicopter took off.