“If the Russian army does not get out of Chechnya, I will command my followers to blow up the theatre and everyone inside it,” Movsar Barayev declared. In his mid-twenties, his hair had never seen a day of grey. He was clad in Army fatigues and on his face he wore a stern expression as he addressed the video camera held by one of his followers. The Chechen leader had a classic villainous air about him, and his weaponry made him all the more frightening. A thick Chechen accent clung to his words and his merciless black eyes maintained eye contact with the camera.
The hostages nearby shrunk into the soft red cushions of their seats, seemingly trying to disappear into the fabric. Other hostages stared blankly forward, nodding their heads in uneven rhythms as they swayed back and forth in some sort of trance. As for the rest of them, some of them slept; however most of them did not.
A husband said to his wife, “Calm down, we’re going to be here for a while.”
“If anyone storms the building, they’ll blow us up straight away,” a harsh whisper explained behind me. “Our only chance of getting out of here alive is for our government to withdraw its forces from Chechnya. And that will never happen.”
It was then that I noticed two Chechen women sitting in the aisle seats, bomb-belts secured around their waists. This was more than a little unsettling. All they had to do was connect two wires – if just one of them did this – her bomb alone would set off all the other bombs nearby. I shivered involuntarily.
From the start, the terrorists had said, “The Russians will storm the building and we’ll all be killed. You’ve no hope of getting out alive. We came here to die and you’ll die with us.” Only now did the weight of our situation really dawn on me. Our biggest fear was the police storming the theatre. If that’s what they decided to do, then we knew we’d all cease to live in a matter of seconds.
Hours passed, and it was difficult to know what time it was. If I hadn’t donned a watch before leaving the house for the performance, I wouldn’t have known the time. The theatre was plastered with Islamic posters and many of the Chechens were busy trying to convert hostages to their religion. They told everyone that if they accepted Allah as the only true god, that they would be accepted into paradise when they died. The Chechens’ attempts to convert us were not succeeding.