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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Officer Dies Rescuing Swedish Envoy




President Boris Yeltsin on Monday awarded a posthumous "Hero of Russia" award to a veteran commando who died Saturday after swapping places with a diplomat taken hostage at the Swedish Embassy, the Kremlin said.


But autopsy evidence released Monday raised questions about the handling of the operation by the Federal Security Service, or FSB, a successor agency to the Soviet KGB.


Colonel Anatoly Savelyov, 51, a 20-year officer of the FSB's Alfa anti-terrorism unit, died early Saturday after other commandos stormed the Volvo car where a lone gunman held him hostage.


The hostage-taker was also killed.


The shootout came after an ambulance worker was allowed to treat Savelyov for a heart problem and set him down outside the driver's seat door. A team of commandos then sprayed volleys of automatic fire in the darkness at the criminal as the medic scrambled out of the way.


The hostage-taker, with a ski mask covering his face, exited from the back door and commandos continued to fire as Savelyov lay motionless on the ground in the direct line of fire.


FSB director Nikolai Kovalyov, who oversaw the operation at the scene, said the hostage-taker initially demanded a $3 million ransom and a plane but later agreed to $100,000 and $168,000 worth of Russian rubles.


Kovalyov said the hostage-taker carried a passport of Sergei Kobyakov, 34, an oil-trader charged with two previous crimes, but added that authorities had not confirmed that this was his identity.


He was armed with a hand grenade and a pistol.


Kovalyov defended the decision to storm the car. "When a person has a grenade with a removed pin in his hand, there are just no other options," he said.


The diplomat, trade representative Jan-Olof Nystrom, said his captor had been ready to die if he did not get the money.


"I asked him whether it would be worth giving up, but he said 'no', that he had made a conclusive decision and that jail was not an option, there was nothing in between," Nystrom said at a news conference.


Savelyov had volunteered to swap places with Nystrom, who left the scene unhurt after four hours in custody.


Savelyov had survived tough battlefield missions in Afghanistan, Nagorny Karabakh and Chechnya and just two weeks ago arrested a hijacker at a Moscow airport, but he met his end in a small Moscow park in front of the Swedish Embassy.


An FSB spokesman said Monday that an autopsy on Savelyov showed he died of a heart attack but also was hit by four bullets fired by security officers after he was clinically dead.


Asked how a man with a heart condition could be allowed to participate in such a tense assignment, the FSB spokesman said Savelyov "hid the condition to a certain extent."


The autopsy report also suggested that the FSB initially hid the extent of the wounds, which came at close range from what the agency boasts are some of the country's top commandos.


Nikolai Kovalyov, the director of the FSB who directed the operation at the scene, initially said Savelyov was not shot but later Saturday told journalists he was hit by a single bullet in the leg.


The agency stressed Monday that the bullet wounds came after the fatal heart attack.


"We did not discover any clear blood hemorrhaging from these wounds, and the absence of shock in the kidney and lungs allows us to propose that the clinical death came before the [bullet] wounds," Itar-Tass quoted pathologist Eduard Yermolenko as saying.