Residents in a Tashkent neighbourhood were terrified to find themselves under attack from terrorists on 25th February, only to learn that the frightening events unfolding around them were apparently being staged as an exercise.
School number 149 was at the centre of events that day; people in camouflage fatigues, helmets and carrying weapons, began to herd passers by away from the neighbourhood and the school.
People who did not come out of their flats were ordered to remain there. At one point the sound of shooting and grenade explosions were clearly audible.
One local resident recounted how a man in military uniform,
|Initially we all thought that there were hostages in the school… Then we realised that this was an exercise"|
|Nikolai Fedorovich, local resident|
carrying a gun, stood guard at the entrance to his block of flats; the ‘soldier’ explained that an exercise was taking place and residents could not leave the building.
Seeing events unfolding under their windows, residents in the neighbourhood concluded that soldiers were trying to free hostages who were being held in the school building. The rumours of hostage-taking were quick to spread.
By Saturday evening, rumours were circulating that the events had caused the deaths of four people, and by Sunday, when the area around school 149 had fallen silent once again, the rumoured death-toll had risen to five.
“Initially we all thought that there were hostages in the school, and that troops were either trying to free them or to keep them there. Then we realised that this was an exercise – we heard the noise of explosions, there was smoke, but there were no actual explosions,” said Nikolai Fedorovich, a resident in one of the blocks of flats nearest the school.
On Monday, in the neighbourhood around school 149, there was no evidence of the events that had recently taken place there.
A representative of the school’s management categorically refuted rumours that hostages had been taken at the school, but refused to confirm that an anti-terrorist exercises had been carried out.
“The school is operating as usual. If someone had been taken hostage here, we would probably not be at work now,” she said.