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Putin Vows to Pursue Terrorists, Draws Attention Away From Gas

By Peter Baker and Susan B. Glasser

President Vladimir Putin empowered Russia’s military on Monday to wage a broad U.S.-style war against terrorists “whatever their whereabouts” while remaining silent about the government’s use of deadly gas to end last week’s hostage crisis at a Moscow theater.

Taking a hard line after the seizure of the theater by Chechen guerrillas, Putin vowed to pursue not only “the terrorists themselves,” but their ideological sponsors and financial backers. While a Chechen leader Monday sought peace talks with Moscow, Putin said he would “never make any deal with terrorists.”

In focusing on the guerrillas who sparked the standoff at the theater in southeast Moscow, Putin drew attention away from the deployment by his security agencies of gas that killed all but two of the 117 hostages who died. More than 400 other hostages suffering from the mystery gas remained hospitalized, including 45 in critical condition. Doctors treating them have not been told what gas was used.

While still refusing to identify the gas, Russian authorities for the first time provided the U.S. Embassy partial information about its effects, and Western doctors who examined surviving hostages concluded it was a morphine-like opiate rather than a nerve agent. Russian doctors reported treating the hostages with naloxone, a common post-anesthetic drug often administered to heroin addicts when they overdose.

The U.S. Embassy Monday also established that an American hostage apparently died during the Russian operation. U.S. officials found a body believed to be that of Sandy Alan Booker, 49, who was visiting Moscow from Oklahoma, although the embassy awaited positive identification.

Recriminations against the government poured forth. Some assailed the Kremlin for abandoning negotiations, killing so many civilians in the rescue effort and then withholding information vital to treatment of survivors.