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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gunman Seizes Bus With 41 Travelers

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Ending a tense 13-hour standoff, commandos swooped down on a hijacked bus in southern Russia on Tuesday night, killing a gunman who had held 41 passengers hostage in a bid to free Chechen prisoners.

The red and white intercity bus was seized by the gunman — identified by police as Sultan-Said Idiyev, 34 — and possibly several other men while en route from Nevinnomyssk to Stavropol in the Stavropol region.

At least one passenger and one traffic police officer were wounded before the hostage crisis ended at about 8 p.m. near the airport in Mineralniye Vody.

Throughout the standoff, fingers were being pointed in all directions at who was to blame. Aslanbek Aslakhanov, the State Duma deputy for Chechnya, said the hijacking was the result of the federal government being too lax in fighting lawlessness in the Caucasus. Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the Kremlin-appointed Chechen administration, cautioned that a full investigation should be carried out before anyone was blamed.

Click here to read our special report on the Conflict in Chechnya.

No matter who was at fault, the hostage crisis would have "extremely negative consequences" for Chechnya, said Vladimir Kalamanov, the presidential human rights envoy to Chechnya.

He told Interfax that the attack threatened to bring further instability to the war-torn republic.

Idiyev, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, hand grenades and a homemade bomb with 1.5 kilograms of dynamite, boarded the bus at 6:45 a.m., firing rounds through the bus roof. He forced the driver to go to the airport at Mineralniye Vody.

While en route to the airport, where he apparently hoped to fly to freedom, Idiyev released six hostages — women, children and a man who he had shot in the knee to scare the others, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said on ORT television.

"The main task now is to free the hostages, but no one will make concessions to the terrorists," he said Tuesday morning in Novosibirsk.

President Vladimir Putin, on vacation in Sochi, was informed about the holdup shortly after it started, news agencies reported.

NTV television said a traffic police officer who tried to stop the bus was injured. It was unclear if he had been shot or hit by the bus.

Police and Federal Security Service officers used large trucks to block the bus on a bridge near the airport at 11 a.m. NTV showed the bus surrounded by commandos and snipers hiding in tall grass. Ambulances and fire trucks were parked nearby.

Idiyev demanded a direct telephone line with the government but was instead handed a walkie-talkie to communicate with FSB and Interior Ministry officials at hastily created rescue operation headquarters in Mineralniye Vody. Putin appointed deputy FSB head Anatoly Yezhkov to head the rescue operation. Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov joined him later.

A 42-member elite Alfa anti-terrorist squad arrived at the scene from Moscow at 1 p.m. and took up positions around the bus. More special forces joined the crowd at the site throughout the day.

"Our negotiating group will decide how to talk to the criminals after merely watching their faces," Alfa veteran Sergei Goncharov said on NTV in the afternoon. "We must follow their demands to certain limits. Their aggression must not be shifted toward the hostages."

As talks unfolded with the hijacker, negotiators emerged with contradictory reports about what he wanted.

Viktor Kazantsev, the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, said Idiyev had demanded the release of six Chechen rebels jailed in Russian prisons, according to NTV.

Officials at the rescue headquarters told ORT that he wanted the release of four convicted kidnappers, as well as a helicopter, six machine-guns, two grenade launchers and a pack of cartridges.

Idiyev threatened to start executing hostages if his demands were not met before sunset, ORT said.

"Liberty or death," he shouted, according to ORT. "I have been behind bars. I'll never go back there."

There were also contradicting reports about how many hijackers were on board. Police originally said their were at least two men, and they were questioning the passengers Tuesday night to find out if Idiyev had acted alone.

Television footage showed the bus with most of its windows broken and curtains drawn. Passengers could be seen trying to pull the curtains back to gulp breaths of fresh air. Temperatures in the bus were reported to have reached 40 degrees Celsius by noon.

At that time, boxes filled with food and drinks for the passengers were delivered to the bus and the hijacker released five more hostages, bring the number of people on the vehicle to 30. Idiyev also allowed women and children to walk around the bus before demanding that they return.

Local FSB spokesman Igor Trubitsin said in televised remarks that the freed hostages had been interrogated in a bid to learn the identity of the hijacker. He said investigators had been told that the hijacker called himself Aslan and had shown them the AK-47 and hand grenades. Idiyev also told the passengers that he had a cloth sack stuffed with plastic explosives.

ORT announced late in the afternoon that the FSB had identified the hijacker as Sultan-Said Idiyev, a Chechen national. The channel said Idiyev had a criminal record and was on Russia's most wanted list.

With sunset nearing Tuesday, the authorities reportedly moved to fulfill some of Idiyev's demands for fear he would execute hostages. Gryzlov transferred two Chechen prisoners from Stavropol to Mineralniye Vody.

Then at 8:00 p.m. the Alfa force stormed the bus. With clouds of smoke billowing around Idiyev from police-tossed smoke grenades, a sniper shot Idiyev in the head.

No hostages were reported injured in the raid.

Ustinov said authorities decided to storm the bus when it became clear that Idiyev wouldn't make any concessions, Interfax reported.

The hijacking Tuesday is very similar to an incident in May 1994 when four masked gunmen seized a bus with 36 passengers near Mineralniye Vody. The hijackers headed to airport, where they swapped 32 hostages for $10 million and a helicopter. They were later arrested in neighboring Chechnya when they were forced to land after running out of fuel.