Court Rejects 3 Suits Over Theater Siege

From Associated Press

A Moscow district court Thursday rejected three lawsuits by six plaintiffs against the city government for damages suffered by hostages in the terrorist seizure of a Moscow theater last year.

The court did not rule on 21 remaining lawsuits because the plaintiffs did not appear during the hearings.

"I have no words, only emotions," said Sergei Karpov, father of one of the victims. His case was not among those rejected, but he said he now held little hope for winning a judgment.

Sixty-one victims of the three-day siege in October sued for nearly $60 million, an unprecedented damage request in Russia. The court began considering the first 24 suits -- some by injured theatergoers and some by relatives of the dead -- on Dec. 3.

Lawyer Igor Trunov said the plaintiffs would probably appeal to the Moscow City Court. He said he might ask the Supreme Court to take over the case because of its "special social significance."

The hostage crisis ended when Russian special forces stormed the building, killing all 41 hostage takers, who said they were trying to dramatize their demands for an end to the war in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya.

Of the approximately 800 people at the performance of the musical "Nord-Ost," 129 hostages died, the vast majority from the effects of a narcotic gas used to incapacitate the militants.

City officials sharply criticized the lawsuit, saying the federal government, not Moscow, is responsible for the Chechen conflict and its consequences.

Lawyers for the city said during closing arguments that the anti-terrorism law, under which the suits were filed, does not require regional governments to pay the type of claims that were filed.

In addition to faulting Moscow authorities for not preventing the theater raid, Trunov has suggested that emergency officials were negligent in organizing evacuation of the mostly unconscious hostages after the special forces stormed the theater.

The allegation was raised late last year by an independent commission formed by the liberal Union of Right Forces party.

The report faulted authorities for refusing to immediately divulge to doctors the composition of the knockout gas, failing to organize emergency treatment outside the theater, and carelessly handling the victims' limp bodies.

But doctors who helped organize the evacuation vigorously rejected the commission's report.

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