Chechens Reportedly Seize Turkish Ship
TRABZON, Turkey (AP) _ Masked gunmen from the rebellious Russian republic of Chechnya reportedly seized a Turkish ferry Tuesday, killed one passenger and threatened to kill all the Russians on board.
The ship was commandeered in the Black Sea port city of Trabzon as Russian troops battled with Chechen separatists holding dozens of hostages in southern Russia.
The ferry set sail at about 9:45 p.m. toward an undisclosed destination, the semiofficial Anatolia news agency said. The agency said it left after the gunmen found the captain, who had been hiding aboard.
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 were Russians.
A Russian woman who managed to escape from the ship said several people aboard had been wounded.
Nadia Naskova told Anatolia the attackers ordered the Russians to gather in one place and started beating them. She said the armed men spoke Turkish and Russian and that she overheard them promise not to harm Turks.
In exchanges over loudspeakers with Turkey’s coast guard, the gunmen threatened to kill a Russian every 10 minutes, Anatolia reported.
They also claimed to have killed one person, but the passenger’s nationality was not given.
Six armed men firing automatic rifles seized the Panamanian-flagged Avrasya on Tuesday evening, 90 minutes before it was to leave for the Russian port city of Sochi, Alaaddin Yuksel, the governor of Trabzon, told state television.
Anatolia said there were about 20 gunmen, and that they shouted slogans demanding freedom for Chechnya.
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 the rebels slipped past border guards and seized hostages in Kizlyar 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.