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Russian alqaeda link

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Russians probe al-Qa'eda link as Moscow siege ends with 150 dead
By Christina Lamb and Ben Aris in Moscow
(Filed: 27/10/2002)

Russian security forces were last night investigating links between Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'eda organisation and Chechen rebels after special forces dramatically ended the Moscow theatre siege, leaving scores of hostages dead.

Most of the 50 Chechen terrorists - including 18 women - were killed when the Russian forces moved in a dawn raid after filling the theatre with sleeping gas through the ventilation system.

The rescue mission was launched after the rebels started carrying out their threat to execute some of the 800 theatregoers held hostage for three nights.

Health officials said that at least 90 hostages were killed during the assault. Many are believed to have died as a result of the gassing after choking on vomit. Three terrorists were said to have survived and were taken for interrogation.

None of the 30 children was killed, nor any of the 75 foreigners, including a British mother and son.

As the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, toured a hospital where survivors were being treated, his security chiefs were investigating the extent of links between al-Qa'eda and the Chechens.

The Telegraph has learned that a number of Arab fighters, believed to be of Saudi Arabian and Yemeni origin, were among the group that seized control of the theatre.

"There were definitely Arab terrorists in the building with links to al-Qa'eda," said a senior Western diplomat. "The Russians will now want to know how much help the Chechens received from bin Laden's organisation."

Mr Putin had claimed that "foreign elements" were involved and suspicions about al-Qa'eda's connection deepened after the Chechens broadcast a pre-recorded message on the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television network, which is frequently used by bin Laden and his lieutenants.

Russian officials said that the hostage-takers had made several calls to the United Arab Emirates during the siege.

Last night thousands of angry relatives waited at hospital gates, denied access to sons and daughters, husbands and wives suffering the effects of the mystery fumes.

In an address to the nation Mr Putin apologised for failing to save all the hostages. "Please forgive us," he said. "We shall win this fight against international terrorism."

The decision to storm the building came at 5.30am. "When the rebels began shooting hostages the special plan was switched on," said Vladimir Vasilyev, the deputy interior minister.

"The danger was very high and we were afraid there might be a major explosion. We used special means to neutralise the terrorists."

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