European court blames Russia in 2002 theater siege

AP News
Posted: Dec 20, 2011 11:01 AM
European court blames Russia in 2002 theater siege

The European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia on Tuesday to pay more than euro1 million ($1.3 million) to dozens of plaintiffs over the country's bungled efforts to end a Moscow theater siege in 2002.

In one of the boldest terrorist acts in post-Soviet Russia, Chechen suicide bombers and other militants stormed the theater, appearing onstage and taking much of the cast, crew and audience captive _ in all, about 800 people.

After three days, Russian forces staged a rescue raid after first filling the auditorium with an unidentified narcotic gas to knock out the militants. The siege and ensuing raid left 129 captives and all 41 hostage-takers dead.

The court Tuesday found that Russia had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by "inadequate planning and implementation of the rescue operation." The court also faulted the "ineffectiveness" of the subsequent investigation into the raid.

It ruled in Russia's favor on another complaint, saying it did not commit any violations by using force and firing the gas into the Theater Center on Dubrovka.

The court ordered Russia to pay all 64 applicants _ including survivors of the raid and families of those killed _ a collective total of euro1,284,000 ($1,678,701) in damages and court costs.

Both sides have three months to decide whether to appeal the ruling to the European Court's Grand Chamber, whose rulings are binding. The court is based in Strasbourg, France.

The Russian envoy to the court, Deputy Justice Minister Georgy Matyushkin, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Russia is reviewing the decision.

He welcomed the court's finding that the raid itself did not constitute a violation. "We are satisfied with this decision of the court," he said.

Russian authorities say hundreds of hostages might have died were it not for the rescue operation. But relatives of victims have questioned the use of a gas that killed so many _ a gas some survivors say has left them with serious health problems.

Plaintiffs in the European court case described wounded hostages being taken to hospitals in ill-equipped city buses because of a lack of ambulances, and said hospital staff couldn't properly treat those with gas-related injuries because they didn't know what kind of gas was used.

The ruling notes that "the formula of the gas has never been revealed."

"The court therefore found that, as a whole, the Russian authorities had not taken all feasible precautions to minimize the loss of civilian life as the rescue operation had been inadequately prepared and carried out," the ruling reads.

The court said the Russian investigation into the terrorist attack was "quite ample and successful" _ but its investigation into alleged negligence by authorities during the rescue operation was "neither thorough nor independent and had not therefore been effective." That, the court said, constituted a further violation of the human rights convention.


Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.