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In Moscow, a test case for government accountability

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The suits filed by survivors and families of the dead allege that authorities failed to organize prompt and efficient medical help for the hostages after their release, that security services withheld information from doctors about the type of gas used, and that other errors caused needless death and suffering. Many of the plaintiffs say it is not money they seek, but the truth. "I just want to know the name of the scoundrel who ordered that gas be used," says Alla Alyakina. "Why did my husband have to die like that?"

Lyubimov says the gas left him half-paralyzed and unable to work. "The alternative I face now is whether to buy food or medicines; I cannot afford both," he said. "No doctor knows how to treat me. They still have no idea what kind of gas was used, and their diagnoses are useless."

Under Russia's 1998 antiterrorism law, security services cannot be sued, and local governments are liable for any damages occurring during terrorist acts. The Moscow government has already paid an average 100,000 rubles (about $3,100) to each hostage's family in the incident. Authorities insist this is in line with previous settlements.

After a wave of terrorist apartment blasts that killed more than 200 Muscovites in 1999, the city doled out 20,000 rubles (about $625) for each victim. The families of six people killed in a car bombing near a McDonald's restaurant last September received 40,000 rubles each.

But the lawyer for most of the plaintiffs in the theater hostage case, Igor Trunov, says the city's settlement delivered neither adequate compensation nor justice to the victims. "We have no specific accusations against the Moscow government; it didn't commit the terrorist act," he says. "But we want the people who are guilty of sloppy organization in assisting victims to be made responsible. One has to wake up our government."

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