Chechens Reportedly Seize Turkish Ship
TRABZON, Turkey (AP) _ Gunmen demanding independence for the Russian republic of Chechnya seized a Black Sea ferry Tuesday and set sail for an unknown destination, reportedly after killing one passenger.
The ship was commandeered in the port city of Trabzon as Russian troops battled with Chechen separatists holding dozens of hostages in southern Russia.
The semiofficial Anatolia news agency said the ferry departed at about 9:45 p.m. after the gunmen found the captain, who had been hiding aboard.
A Russian woman, who managed to escape shortly before the armed men closed the boarding gates, said there were several wounded people on the ship.
The governor of Trabzon told state television that 165 people were aboard the ferry _ 120 passengers and 45 crew members. It was not known how many Russians were on board.
Six armed men firing automatic rifles seized the ferry Avrasya on Tuesday evening, 90 minutes before it was to leave for the Russian port city of Sochi about 200 miles to the north, Alaaddin Yuksel, the governor of Trabzon, told state television. Trabzon is on the Black Sea’s south coast, about 550 miles east of Istanbul.
Anatolia said there were about 20 gunmen, and that they shouted slogans demanding freedom for Chechnya.
The Russian woman who escaped, Nadia Naskova, told Anatolia she hid behind some long vehicles on the ferry. She said the armed men ordered the Russians to gather at one spot and started beating them.
In exchanges over loudspeakers with Turkey’s coast guard, the gunmen demanded to leave immediately and threatened to kill a Russian every 10 minutes, the agency reported.
They also claimed to have killed one person already, but the passenger’s nationality was not given.
Police shut off the port to traffic.
Predominantly Muslim Turkey sympathizes with the 3-year drive for independence in Chechnya, a largely Muslim republic in the Caucasus Mountains. However, Turkey has maintained a relatively low profile to avoid harming relations with Russia.
Eight million Turks are of Caucasian origin; there is a Chechen community of about 25,000 in Turkey.
The recent crisis with the Chechens in Russia began Jan. 9, when rebels slipped past border guards and seized hostages in the Dagestan republic to dramatize their demand for a Russian troop withdrawal from Chechnya.
Russian troops poured into Chechnya in December 1994. About 30,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the fighting.