Friday 1 November 2002

Russian gas clues point to cocktail

Further clues to the identity of the knock-out agent used to end the Moscow hostage crisis have emerged, indicating that a likely candidate is a cocktail of an opioid narcotic such as fentanyl supplemented by halothane, a common anaesthetic. The two are commonly used together in clinical anaesthesia.

The Russian authorities are maintaining their silence on the identity of the gas, which they used to incapacitate the Chechen hostage-takers on Saturday. But the gas is believed to have killed all but two of the 117 hostages who died. The first funerals have already been held.

Late on Tuesday, doctors in Munich reported that chemical analysis had identified halothane in blood and urine samples taken from two surviving German hostages within 24 hours of the rescue.

But David Whittaker of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain cautions that the two may have received halothane as an emergency treatment for bronchospasm induced by inhaling vomit, which happened to many hostages. If this true, it is probable that an opioid was used alone.

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