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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Officials Present Evidence in Hostage Crisis

MTKremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky, second from right, and other officials showing reporters the evidence.
Moscow police arrested an alleged member of a Chechen terrorist gang who was suspected of planning a new attack, while top officials on Thursday presented a barrage of intelligence information to support their allegation that Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov was behind the theater attack.

Police arrested Sergei Krym-Gerei, allegedly a member of prominent Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev's gang, a few days ago as he tried to sell eight kilograms of mercury in a bottle, said Filipp Zolotnitsky, a spokesman for the city police department for fighting economic crimes. He wanted $600 for the substance and had already found a prospective client, Zolotnitsky said.

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky presented what he said was evidence that Maskhadov had ordered the theater raid.

At a news conference, officials played tapes of conversations they intercepted between the hostage-takers and contacts outside the theater. In one of the Chechen-language calls, translated into Russian, a voice identified as the attackers' leader, Movsar Barayev, told a man, identified as the rebels' chief ideologist Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, that "Shamil," meaning Basayev, was present during preparations for the hostage-taking. "Shamil was acting on Aslan's instructions," the voice said. The man identified as Yandarbiyev responded by suggesting Barayev should claim that Maskhadov is not involved.

"There was other clear evidence that Mr. Maskhadov was fully aware of the developments and the people in the hall acted with his knowledge," Yastrzhembsky said, though he did not offer further proof. He said Maskhadov had been placed on an international wanted list.

The government will also ask Qatar to extradite Yandarbiyev, he said.

In another intercepted call presented to reporters, Abu Bakar, earlier identified in media reports as Barayev's deputy, claimed his band had more than 100 accomplices around Moscow who were ready to carry out suicide attacks.

Yastrzhembsky said the claim could have been false and intended to frighten authorities, because the hostage-takers were aware their calls were being monitored. At the same time, he said the authorities had spotted one member of a security cordon around the theater who was an informant for the attackers.

Yastrzhembsky said the attackers had connections with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist groups.

Moscow Prosecutor Mikhail Avdyukov said some of the 41 hostage-takers whose bodies were recovered from the scene were foreigners from former Soviet republics and beyond. He said two surviving hostage-takers, both Russian citizens, were in custody.

Moscow police on Thursday found a bus thought to have been used by the hostage-takers to get to the theater and detained its driver and passengers, Interfax reported.

Avdyukov said the explosive detonated at a McDonald's restaurant in mid-October was similar to those found inside the theater. Three Chechens have been detained in that blast.

Officials showed reporters the explosive devices, most of them sealed in plastic evidence bags, that were taken from the theater. Federal Security Service expert Vladimir Yeryomin said the hostage-takers had explosives equivalent to 110 to 120 kilograms of TNT, including two large devices, 25 smaller devices and more than 100 grenades.

Authorities remained unable to come up with an exact figure of how many people had been held hostage Thursday. Avdyukov said some hostages had left the theater on their own after being freed by the troops.

Moskovskaya Pravda claimed Thursday that about 100 people remained unaccounted for. City authorities, however, put the number at 10 on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the city health department said 184 hostages remained hospitalized Thursday, eight in serious condition. (AP, MT)