Attacker flees from Russian clinic siege

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The Independent Online

A masked man armed with grenades burst into a children's clinic in southern Russia yesterday, seized 19 hostages, then released them and escaped.

He freed the hostages after being given 2 million roubles (£46,000) as part of a ransom demand that he had negotiated with regional officials throughout the afternoon, said Kazbek Karginov, the acting leader of the North Ossetia regional government. He said the attacker was so intoxicated he could "barely speak".

Police and special forces sealed off the three-storey clinic in the city of Vladikavkaz and rescued staff and patients from the upper floors using ladders, while officials talked to the attacker.

After negotiations, the man then left the clinic in a Russian police car with four police officers, and was escorted to an undisclosed location, Mr Karginov said. The attacker still had one grenade with him.

He later ordered the policemen out of the car, threatening to detonate the grenade, and drove off, Alan Doyev, a regional police spokesman, said. Police were still trying to catch the man yesterday evening.

The attacker claimed at one point that three apartment buildings in another neighborhood of Vladikavkaz were mined and that he would blow them up if his demands were refused.

Sniffer dogs and dozens of police were scouring that neighborhood for signs of explosives, Mr Karginov said, urging residents to be vigilant.

A string of apartment house bombings in 1999 in cities around Russia killed 300 people and terrified the citizens – and made Russians particularly sympathetic toward Americans' shock and grief after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The Russian bombings were blamed on Chechnya-based terrorists and the Kremlin soon afterwards sent troops back into Chechnya.

Hostage-takings, kidnappings and other violence have haunted regions surrounding Chechnya in recent years. (AP)

* State security police raided the offices of Georgia's main private television news company yesterday, sparking an outcry from its staff and liberal parliamentary deputies. Staff at Rustavi-2 studios said security police stayed in the building for two hours – their movements broadcast live by television cameras – armed with a court order to examine the company's financial books.

Media organisations in many former Soviet republics have faced tax investigations and legal troubles in recent years that journalists say are attempts to stifle dissent.