Theater of War

ANATOLY ZHDANOV/KOMSOMOLSKAYA PRAVDA for TIME

THE STORM: special forces charge into the theater

Anya Andrianova first noticed the strange smell inside the theater just after 5:30 a.m. Like most of the other hostages and many of the Chechen terrorists holding them captive, she was sprawled across an auditorium seat trying to get some sleep. Alarmed by the odor, she spotted gas — eerily visible as it seeped through the air-conditioning vents and rose from the floor.

Terrified that the assault on the theater had begun, Andrianova's friend used her mobile phone to call Ekho Moskvy's early morning radio show. "They are gassing us!" she screamed, her voice shrill with panic. "All...

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