MOSCOW, Oct. 24 (JTA) — Jewish organizations here have beefed up security measures following the beginning of a hostage drama in a Moscow theater. The incident began Wednesday night, when about 50 heavily armed Chechens, including many women, took some 700 people hostage. Several dozen people — primarily children, Muslims and foreigners — were released from the theater at intervals throughout the night and the following day. One woman apparently was killed by the hostage-takers when she tried to escape. Jewish officials stressed that the community was not more at risk than other ethnic groups, but they took precautions nonetheless. “We have taken some special measures to ensure extra safety for our institutions,” Pavel Feldblum, executive vice president of the Moscow Jewish community, told JTA. The attackers demanded that Russian troops pull out of Chechnya immediately. They claimed to have wired the building with explosives and said they were ready to die if their demands were not met. Moscow authorities stepped up security throughout the city, and the Kremlin reportedly was mulling declaring a state of emergency in the capital. Moscow never has seen hostage seizure of such scale, and many ordinary Muscovites expressed fear for their safety. “Any institution in Moscow can become the next target” of terrorists, said the president of the Russian Jewish Congress, Yevgeny Satanovsky. “Synagogues and Jewish institutions are at no bigger risk than any other place.” Jewish religious leaders joined spiritual leaders of other faiths in offering a prayer for the hostages’ safety. “In the current situation we can only help by praying for the safety of the innocent people,” Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s two chief rabbis, said in a statement. Lazar called on Russians of all faiths to “unite at this time in a prayer for the well-being of our fellow citizens.” Russian President Vladimir Putin linked the hostage crisis in Moscow with recent terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in Bali and the Philippines. Lazar warned against identifying the attackers with any faith or ethnic group. “In no holy book of Islam, I’m sure, is there any justification for terror against peaceful, innocent people,” Lazar told the Interfax news agency. The hostage-takers so far have agreed to speak only with two public figures — Irina Khakamada, a liberal lawmaker, and Josef Kobzon, an independent member of the Russian Parliament. Kobzon, a popular singer, is Jewish. No Israelis have been reported among the hostages, who were attending a sell-out performance of the hit musical “Nord-Ost,” or Northeast. Several Americans and Britons are believed to be inside. Satanovsky said the hostage crisis has placed Russia on a par with the United States, Israel and other countries targeted by terrorists. “Like these countries, Russia has now entered into an all-out war against terrorism,” he told JTA. Russian special services were in consultations on Thursday with their foreign colleagues, the head of the Federal Security Service told reporters. Satanovsky said Russians have a lot to learn from Israel’s experience in fighting terrorism and coping with hostage crises.
Russian Jews add security after hostage-taking