MOSCOW — A decade after the tragic end of a Russian theater siege left 130 hostages dead, security officers who took part in the rescue operation said Friday there was nothing they could have done to prevent the deaths.
Officers of the Alfa special forces said the secrecy of the rescue prevented them from working closely with doctors when opiate gas was pumped into the theater where more than 900 people were being held by Chechen militants. Families of the victims have claimed that doctors were not informed what kind of gas was used in the operation and had no antidote.
"The HQ had to carry out the operation in utmost secrecy," Alexei Filatov from Alfa's veteran organization told a news conference on Friday — the 10th anniversary of the storming of the theater that ended the three-day siege.
"It was only at the last moment that we learnt that the gas would be deployed and that's why we could not have told doctors about it," Filatov added.
Survivors and families of the victims lit 130 candles and laid 130 red carnations Friday morning on the steps of the theater.
Russian officials have never accepted responsibility for the deaths on Oct. 26, 2002.
Families insist that their relatives died from the gas that was pumped in the building before it was stormed by troops, but authorities rejected that accusation. President Vladimir Putin initially blamed it on "chronic illness" and "just the fact that they had been forced to remain in the building."
Officials, however, later acknowledged that hostages died due to inadequate medical help after the storming of the building. All 40 hostage-takers also died.
Lawyers for the victims took the case to the European Court of Human Rights and won a decision in their favor as well as compensation of €1.3 million ($1.7 million) from the Russian state in 2011. The court ruled that the planning of the operation as well as the lack of proper investigation into what happened were in violation of European law.
Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report.