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Locked door saved a Norwegian doctor from Red Cross slayings

December 19, 1996

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ In the middle of the night, someone rattled his door at a Red Cross hospital in Chechnya. It was locked. He heard footsteps, thuds, screams and then silence.

In minutes, six of Norwegian doctor Tobias Bredland’s fellow Red Cross volunteers had been murdered in their beds.

``I never heard a shot. I didn’t understand that anyone had been killed until I went out into the hallway when it quieted down,″ said the 48-year-old surgeon.

Bredland was one of 14 survivors evacuated to Geneva on Thursday from the field hospital in the separatist Russian republic. Pale and weeping, the survivors linked arms and stood silently on the airport tarmac next to the six coffins of their slain colleagues.

The bodies of the victims _ two volunteers from Norway, and the others from Canada, Spain, The Netherlands and New Zealand _ arrived in coffins draped with the Red Cross flag.

``One of the killers was seen by a local employee. He was masked, and had a pistol with a silencer,″ Bredland told the Norwegian news agency NTB in Geneva. ``The thudding sounds were from the silenced shots.″

Bredland said the massacre, at 4 a.m. Tuesday, only lasted two or three minutes. He and others believe they survived because their doors were locked and the killers picked easier prey.

``I woke up when someone rattled my door. I immediately thought we were being kidnapped, a risk I had been psychologically prepared for,″ Bredland said. Six Red Cross workers have been kidnapped in Chechnya this year.

Afterward, he and colleagues went from room to room, finding five of their friends dead and the sixth dying.

The motive and the identity of the killers remains unknown in these murders as well as in a separate slaying Thursday in Chechnya of six Russian civilians.

The head of the separatist republic and Russian President Boris Yeltsin lamented the incident, and suggested it was an effort to sabotage a peace agreement that has held since August, after almost two years of fighting.

The international Red Cross designated Friday a day of mourning for the victims and planned a religious memorial at St. Pierre cathedral in Geneva.

The Red Cross has suspended operations in Chechnya and evacuated its staff. The United Nations also suspended refugee operations in Chechnya.

Bredland had no idea who was responsible for the killings.

``No one heard them talk. The whole thing happened in near silence,″ the doctor said.

Bredland said the full impact of the tragedy hasn’t really hit him yet, but it will.

Right now, the doctor said, he just wants to get home to the central Norwegian city of Trondheim to see his wife and three children.

Update hourly