SCHOOL ATTACKED BY TERRORISTS
compiled by Dee Finney
PLANES DOWNED BY TERRORISM
Hostage Crisis At Russian School Drags Into Second Day
BESLAN, Russia -- Negotiations have reportedly broken off at a Russian school where a standoff with armed militants holding more than 350 hostages is entering its second day. Crowds of worried relatives and towns people are huddled around police cordons trying to learn anything they can about the situation inside.
The hostage takers are threatening to blow up the school if security forces raid the building and they say they'll kill 50 students for every militant that's shot.
Officials estimate there are between 15 and 24 militants inside the school. What they want isn't as clear and the Interfax news agency reports talks broke off early this morning.
There are reports that between seven and 15 people have been killed since the hostage takers seized the school Wednesday.
ITAR-Tass, citing regional officials, reports the attackers want the release of fighters detained in connection with a series of attacks on police facilities in a neighboring province.
Parents of the seized children Wednesday recorded a videocassette appeal to President Vladimir Putin to fulfill the terrorists' demands.
Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed 10 people near a subway station and last week, explosions aboard two Russian airliners killed 90 people.
Theater Raid RememberedThe seizure of the school in southern Russia is evoking memories of a hostage taking at a Moscow theater in October 2002.
Some 40 Chechen militants stormed the theater during a musical and held about 800 people hostage for more than two days.
The standoff ended when Russian special forces pumped narcotic gas into the theater. The attackers were incapacitated and police stormed the building.
All the attackers were killed -- but 129 hostages died as well, almost all from the gas.
Insurgents Seize School in Russia and Hold Scores
Published: September 2, 2004
BESLAN, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 2 - Heavily armed insurgents, some with explosives strapped to their bodies, seized a school here in southern Russia on Wednesday, herded scores of schoolchildren, parents and teachers into its gymnasium and threatened to kill them.
More than a dozen guerrillas, including men and women, stormed Middle School No. 1 in this town in North Ossetia, not far from Chechnya on Russia's southern border with Georgia, as children lined up outside the building just moments after the opening of the school year. North Ossetian officials said Thursday that 354 hostages were being held, more than half of them children.
Gunfire erupted during the seizure and afterward before quieting by Wednesday evening. Four to seven people are believed to have been killed in the initial raid, said Lev Dzugayev, a spokesman for North Ossetia's president Two police officers guarding the school are missing. At least a dozen others were reported wounded, some gravely.
Mr. Dzugayev said authorities knew the ethnicity of the terrorists. "They are Chechen and Ingush,'' he said Thursday morning. They speak quite good Russian, and we know for sure there is at least one Ossetian among them.''
The local police, as well as special forces and soldiers from Russia's 58th Army, surrounded the school, creating a nervous standoff that continued into Thursday in stormy weather that flooded the streets.
At 5:10 a.m., the sound of a small explosion echoed from the school, and at 6 a.m., a larger one. Kalashnikov fire erupted occasionally from the building. The republic's interior minister, Kazdek Dzantiyev, said all the gunfire and explosions were coming from the school, and that Russian soldiers had not returned fire out of concern for the hostages.
Hundreds of relatives gathered outside in fearful vigil on Thursday morning, sometimes having to be restrained from trying to approach the school. Many distraught family members crowded around North Ossetian officials, angrily demanding to know how the rebels were able breach Russian security and accusing the police and soldiers of taking bribes.
Rosa Tsurayeva rushed to the school when she heard gunfire, but by the time she arrived, her son, Zaur, 14, and daughter, Alina, 10, were among the hostages.
"I have to get there," she said she had told the officers who stopped her. "My children are there." She broke into sobs, rocking in a chair at a social center that has turned into a shelter for waiting relatives. "They would not let me."
The man who identified himself on the phone as the guerrillas' spokesman said they wanted talks with the leaders of North Ossetia and neighboring Ingushetia, as well as with a pediatrician who took part in negotiations with insurgents who seized a Moscow theater in October 2002.
"Wipe your sniffles," the man said, speaking crudely in accented Russian, when asked what they hoped to discuss with the officials. He then hung up.
The siege began the morning after a suicide bomber set off an explosion outside a subway station in Moscow, killing herself and at least 10 others in the latest convulsion of terrorist violence that has struck fear into Russians. Because of the nature of the explosives used, officials said on Wednesday, that attack appeared linked to the bombings of two passenger airliners, which crashed simultaneously on Aug. 24, killing 90.
Russia's defense minister, Sergei B. Ivanov, speaking in Moscow as the hostage crisis unfolded in the south, said the attacks amounted to war.
"War has been declared on us, where the enemy is unseen, and there is no front," Mr. Ivanov said. "This is regrettably not the first, and I fear not the last, terrorist act."
President Vladimir V. Putin, for the second time in eight days, disrupted his working vacation in the Black Sea resort of Sochi and returned to Moscow. He did not immediately discuss the hostage crisis, but in an interview with Turkish journalists on the eve of a state visit to Turkey, Mr. Putin said Russia would never negotiate with terrorists or Chechen separatists, who have now been fighting Russian forces, with only a brief halt, since 1994.
"We shall fight against them, throw them in prisons and destroy them," Mr. Putin said in remarks reported by Interfax.
But officials began talks with the guerrillas at the school in North Ossetia on Wednesday in hopes of ending the siege peacefully.
Ossetian women waited yesterday for news about the hostages - an estimated 120 to 300 children, parents and teachers - seized in a school in Beslan.
With the building in their control and evidently wired with mines and explosives, the guerrillas sent two notes, one with a hostage, and a videocassette, the officials said. The videocassette was blank, the officials said. One of the notes included a mobile telephone number, the other the simple message, "Wait," a spokesman here, Oleg Sogalov, said in a telephone interview.
The man who answered the school's phone said he represented the Second Group of Salakhin Riadus Shakhidi, a rebel contingent believed to be headed by Chechnya's most notorious insurgent commander, Shamil Basayev. Russian officials maintained that it was premature to say who had seized the school.
Mr. Basayev has previously been involved in or claimed responsibility for some of the worst attacks in Russia stemming from the long conflict in Chechnya. They include a raid in 1995 into Budennovsk, a town near Chechnya in the Stavropol region, during the first Chechen war. In that attack, his fighters killed 147 people and then held more than 1,000 people hostage in a hospital.
That raid ended when the captors loaded hundreds of hostages on buses and drove to Chechnya. Mr. Basayev also claimed responsibility for rebel attacks in Ingushetia in June that left nearly 100 dead.
Officials said negotiators had established contact with the guerrillas in the school. The director of the local branch of the Federal Security Service, Valery Andreyev, said in televised remarks that the guerrillas had refused to allow food and water to be sent in for the hostages.
Mr. Putin's adviser on Chechen affairs, Alsanbek Aslakhanov, told Interfax that the guerrillas had demanded a withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and the release of insurgents jailed after the raids in Ingushetia in June.
The guerrillas threatened to destroy the school if any attempt was made to free the hostages and vowed to kill 50 schoolchildren for each guerrilla killed, North Ossetia's interior minister, Kazbek Dzantiyev, said, according to Russian news agencies. Middle School No. 1 has more than 800 students, ages 6 to 16, and some 60 teachers. Several officials said there appeared to be 15 to 20 guerrillas, at least two of them women. Wearing camouflage and masks and heavily armed with grenades and explosives, they apparently stormed the school using a hijacked police car and a truck, the officials said.
The raid occurred only moments after an opening-day ceremony attended by students, their parents and teachers. The first day of school here, known as Day of Knowledge, is one of the most festive days for Russian families, with children and parents dressing up and carrying flowers to greet teachers.
A few students managed to escape, apparently after hiding in a boiler room. The state television network, Rossiya, showed a camouflaged soldier racing a young girl to safety, followed by an elderly woman.
"I was standing near the gates," one student, Zarubek Tsumartov, said on Rossiya. "Music was playing. When I saw three people running with guns, I thought it was a joke at first. Then they fired in the air. And we ran away."
The siege in Beslan had portentous echoes of one of the most notorious terrorist acts in recent Russian history: the hostage crisis at a Moscow theater in October 2002. A band of insurgents seized the theater during a musical, "Nord-Ost," and held more than 700 hostages for 57 hours before commandoes stormed the building. At least 41 rebels died in the raid, but so did at least 129 hostages, most from the effects of a nerve gas pumped into the theater.
Russia's second war in Chechnya began in 1999 and shows few signs of ending, even though Russian soldiers and security officers control most of the mountainous republic.
The raid in Ingushetia in June, and a similar one in Chechnya's capital, Grozny, on Aug. 21 that killed as many as 50, demonstrated the rebels' capacity to stage larger operations, if intermittently. The school siege - as well as the attacks against two airliners last week and outside a Moscow subway station on Tuesday night - bracketed the presidential election in Chechnya held last Sunday to replace Akhmad Kadyrov, a former rebel turned Kremlin supporters who was assassinated in Grozny in May.
Chechnya's separatist leader, Aslan Maskhadov, who served as president during the de facto independence from 1996 to 1999 before fleeing Grozny in the second war, denied involvement in the terrorist attacks and in Wednesday's siege.
Russia's campaign in Chechnya, now in its sixth year, has faced international criticism because its forces have been accused of unwarranted killings and other abuses in their pursuit of separatist rebels.
C.J. Chivers reported from Beslan for this article, and Steven Lee Myers from Moscow. Nikolai Khalip contributed reporting from Moscow.
|Scores reportedly killed in Russian school siege
Hundreds wounded after 3-day showdown erupts in a bloody climax
MSNBC News Services
Updated: 10:21 a.m. ET Sept. 3, 2004
BESLAN, Russia - Scores of bodies were found Friday in a Russian school as a three-day showdown between Russian security forces and suspected Chechen militants erupted in a bloody climax.
Amid an eruption of explosions, gunfire and screams of fleeing children, commandos stormed the building where militants strapped with bombs had held hundreds of captives since Wednesday. Dozens of people were killed, most of them children, and more than 400 were wounded, reports said.
The reports from the scene varied on the numbers of hostages killed, although most reports suggested a gruesome toll.
NBC's Branislav Siljkovic reported that a local police official had seen 15 children's bodies in the school but that others on the scene were predicting the toll would reach 150.
Separately, a reporter for Britain's ITV News reported his cameraman saw up to 100 bodies of hostages inside the school's gymnasium, where most of the hostages had been held.
"I was stopped by the Russian soldiers," ITV's Julian Manyon reported. "But our cameraman did manage to get through the door just for a few moments. He told me that in his estimation there are as many as 100 dead bodies, I am afraid, lying on the smouldering floor of the gymnasium where we know that a large number of the hostages were being held."
Interfax said the building's roof had collapsed -- possibly from the explosives some militants had strapped to their bodies -- and that dozens were killed.
Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency reported that officials were confirming there were dead bodies in the gymnasium, where hostages were taken captive on Wednesday, although they did not give specific numbers.
Russian authorities claimed to have control of the school, and the Interfax news agency reported that all the hostages had been evacuated from the school gymnasium. But gunfire continued to ring out some three hours after the commandos' raid.
The scene around the school was chaotic: people running through the streets, columns of smoke overhead, the cries of children and the wounded carried off on stretchers.
Group break-away prompts raid
Russia's security chief said the storming of the school was not a planned operation.
"I want to point out that no military action was planned. We were planning further talks," the regional head of the FSB security service, Valery Andreyev, told RTR television.
His comments gave strength to earlier speculation the violent end to the siege in southern Russia may have been started by the Chechen militants inside the school.
Early news reports said the raid came after about 30 women and children broke out of the building, some bloodied and screaming.
Interfax said militants fired at children who ran from the building, and unconfirmed reports said some of the hostage-takers, possibly including women bearing suicide belts, may have taken hostages with them.
"Those children who remained in the school, in general, were not hurt," said a security official quoted by ITAR-Tass.
"The ones who suffered were the children in the group which ran from the school and on whom the fighters opened fire."
Women escaping the building were seen fainting and others, some covered in blood, were carried away on stretchers. Many children were only partly clothed because of the stifling heat in the gymnasium where they had been held since the militants took the building Wednesday.
The firing subsided after about 45 minutes, but then kicked up again later. ITAR-Tass said the soldiers blew a hole in the building to help with the raid and other reports said some of the raiders had escaped, possibly taking children with them, and were fleeing Beslan.
After seizing the school, the militants reportedly threatened to blow it up if troops tried to rescue the hostages and warned they would kill prisoners if any of their gang was hurt.
WashPost: First day of school was study in terror
On Thursday, the militants had freed about 26 hostages, all women and children, and Russian officials had been in negotiations with the militants since the standoff began.
There were conflicting reports of the number of hostages who had been taken, with official saying about 350 and people among a small group freed on Wednesday saying there were about 1,500.
Militants' identities, demands unclear
The militants' demands had not been clear. Reports after the standoff began Wednesday said the attackers demanded the release of people jailed after attacks on police posts in June that killed more than 90 people in Ingushetia, a region between North Ossetia and the neighboring republic of Chechnya. However, officials said Thursday that the hostage-takers had not clearly formulated their demands.
After negotiations that ran through the night and into Thursday, Alan Doyev, a spokesman for the North Ossetia Interior Ministry, said that "so far we have not heard the terrorists' clearly formulated demands."
Authorities estimated 15 to 24 militants held the school.
The militants' identity was also murky.
Lev Dzugayev, a North Ossetian official, said the attackers might be from Chechnya or Ingushetia.
Law enforcement sources in North Ossetia and Ingushetia, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the attackers were believed to include Chechens, Ingush, Russians and a North Ossetian suspected of participating in the Ingushetia violence.
'Disturbing failures' in school assault
It is still far too early to draw up a full assessment of the performance of the Russian security forces at the besieged school building in Beslan.
That will have to wait until a clear chronology is established, detailing exactly how the events unfolded, what orders were given and how they were acted upon.
But already one thing is clear.
This looks like an improvised operation at best - and one which revealed several disturbing failures in contingency planning.
As dawn broke on Friday there was no immediate hint of the trouble to come.
It looked as though negotiations would continue for the day, at least.
One small group of hostages had already been released. However, the uncompromising demands of the hostage-takers left the Russian authorities with few options.
The heat and the overall condition of the hostages - many of them young children - meant that this stand-off could not be allowed to drag on for days.
As a result, it would be expected that all necessary military measures would be taken to prepare for a possible assault - either as a last resort, or to respond to some unexpected turn of events.
In the event these preparations seem to have been deficient on a number of counts.
For one thing, the Russian forces failed to establish clear and secure perimeters within which the conflict could be contained.
The break-out of at least some of the hostage-takers should have been impossible.
The operation appeared to lack co-ordination. Medical facilities on the scene appeared to be inadequate.
Old forces in a new world
One fact should be clear from afar in the rush to judge the Russian security forces' performance.
Once military action began, significant casualties may have been unavoidable.
The hostage-takers were clearly not going to get independence for Chechnya. The 'best' they could hope for was to cause a major tragedy that would damage President Vladimir Putin's reputation - and force Chechnya back to the top of the Russian political agenda.
Friday's tragic events may well have done that. But equally, they may well have forced the whole issue of security and the state of Russia's armed forces to the head of the agenda as well.
For all the talk in Russia of military reform and modernisation, this former superpower's armed forces have languished in the post-communist world.
They have not been sufficiently streamlined, nor trained and equipped, for the new challenges of a very different world.
Elite special forces troops flown in from Moscow, or wherever else, cannot operate in a vacuum.
The string of attacks inspired by Chechen radicals in the past few weeks has brought a general sense of insecurity to many ordinary Russians - akin to that felt by many Americans after the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.
Whatever the popular Russian mood towards Chechnya, there are going to be many people who will now ask fundamental questions about their government's capacity to ensure their safety.
It is a question that Mr Putin may well be asking of his
generals and intelligence chiefs as well.
| Russia Hostage Death Toll Said to Top 200
By Mike Eckel
The Associated Press
Friday 03 September 2004
BESLAN, Russia - Commandos stormed a school Friday in southern Russia and overcame separatist rebels holding hundreds of hostages as crying children, some naked and covered in blood, fled the building through explosions and gunfire. Health officials said more than 200 people died, the Interfax news agency reported.
Ninety-five victims were identified - many of them children whose shattered, bloodied bodies were placed on lines of stretchers - and Interfax quoted unnamed sources in the regional Health Ministry as saying more than 200 people were killed by fire from the militants or died from their wounds.
Hundreds of hostages survived the crisis, which in targeting children on the first day of classes crossed a boundary and amounted to a significant escalation in the decade-old Russian-Chechen conflict. More than 700 others were injured, officials said.
World governments angrily condemned the school seizure. U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday called it "another grim reminder of the length to which terrorists will go to threaten this civilized world."
Russian authorities insisted that the militants initiated Friday's violence as emergency teams entered the school, with the hostage-takers' permission, to collect the bodies of several men who had been executed earlier. It was not clear where the tragic end to the siege would leave President Vladimir Putin's tough policy on Chechnya, which to date had enjoyed broad support despite the heavy toll rebel violence has taken in recent years.
An explosives expert told NTV television that the commandos charged into the building after bombs - hung in basketball hoops by the hostage-takers - exploded. A sobbing young girl who escaped the school told NTV that a suicide bomber blew herself up in the gym where children were kept captive.
Twenty militants were killed in more than 10 hours of gunfights with security forces, 10 of them Arabs, Valery Andreyev, the region's Federal Security Service chief, said in televised comments. Putin's adviser on Chechnya, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, also said a number of the dead militants were Arab mercenaries.
After trading fire with militants holed up in the basement of a school annex, officials said the fighting was over, but that four militants remained at large. Three suspected hostage-takers were arrested trying to escape wearing civilian dress, Channel One TV reported, and Ekho Moskvy radio said a suspected female hostage-taker was detained when she approached an area hospital wearing a white robe.
The Arab presence among the attackers would bolster Putin's case that the Russian campaign in neighboring Chechnya, where mostly Muslim separatists have been fighting Russian forces in a brutal war for most of the past decade, is part of the war on international terrorism.
Late Friday, the ITAR-Tass new agency cited unspecified security sources as saying al-Qaida financed the attack on the school, and that Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev masterminded the raid. The report also said an alleged al-Qaida operative, Abu Omar as-Saif, coordinated the financing of the attack.
Regional President Alexander Dzasokhov said Friday that the hostage-takers had demanded that Russian troops leave Chechnya - the first clear indication of their demands and of a direct link between the attack on the school and the ongoing war in the neighboring region.
Officials at the crisis headquarters said 95 victims had been identified. Emergency Situations Ministry officials said 704 people were hospitalized, including 259 children. Many were badly burned.
Aslakhanov told Interfax the death toll could be "much more" than 150, and said in televised comments that the militants claimed they initially seized some 1,200 hostages, most of them children - far more than earlier estimates of 350.
The militants seized the school in North Ossetia on Wednesday, a day after a suicide bomb blast outside a Moscow subway station killed at least nine people, and just over a week after two Russian passenger jets crashed nearly simultaneously after what authorities believed were explosions on board triggered by suicide bombers, possibly Chechen women.
A hostage who escaped told Associated Press Television News that the militants numbered 28, including women in camouflage. The hostage, who identified himself only as Teimuraz, said the militants began wiring the school with explosives as soon as they took control Wednesday.
The commandos stormed the school on the third day of the crisis, moving in after about 30 women and children broke out of the building, some bloodied and screaming, after the explosions.
Russian officials said the violence came when - under an agreement reached Friday morning - emergency workers entered the school to retrieve the bodies of hostages who had been killed. A local legislator, Azamat Kadykov, had told the hostages' relatives that 20 adult men had been executed.
Andreyev said there were two large explosions, and people started running. He said militants fired at fleeing hostages, and security forces opened return fire, along with civilian residents of the town who had armed themselves. The police sapper, speaking on NTV television, said bombs hanging from basketball hoops exploded.
The bomb expert said the gym had also been rigged with explosives packed in plastic bottles strung up around the room on a cord and stuffed with metal objects.
Women escaping the building were seen fainting and others, some covered in blood, were carried away on stretchers. Many children - parched, hungry and only partly clothed because of the stifling heat in the gym - ran out screaming and begging for water.
"They didn't let me go to the toilet for three days, not once. They never let me drink or go to the toilet," Teimuraz, the escaped hostage, told APTN.
Two emergency services workers were killed and three wounded during the chaos, Interfax reported.
Interfax said the school's roof collapsed, possibly from the explosives. The militants had reportedly threatened to blow up the building if authorities used force. Andreyev and Aslakhanov said there had been no plans to storm the school and that authorities had pinned hopes on negotiations.
Putin had said Thursday that everything possible would be done to end the "horrible" crisis and save the lives of the children and other hostages in this town of 35,000 people.
|Russia Seals Region’s Borders As
Hostage Toll Rises To 250
Moscow, Sept. 4, 2004 (NNN): A day after the Beslan school siege ended in a bloody shoot-out, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday ordered the sealing of the borders of the North Ossetia Region.
"I gave the order to seal off Beslan, restrict administrative borders and close state borders" in the southern part of North Ossetia, Putin said in a meeting here with North Ossetia President Alexander Dzasokhov and other officials.
Ninety-five victims has so far been identified, many of them children whose shattered, bloodied bodies were placed on lines of stretchers. And one official said the death toll has thus far exceeded 250. More than 700 others were injured, including 259 children.
Many were badly burned. Officials told said the militants claimed to have initially seized some 1,200 hostages.
More than 1,200 children and parents are thought to have been inside Beslan's No 1 school on Wednesday when the hostage-takers seized the building.
Most of the suspected Chechen separatists who took over the school in the town of Beslan are reported to have been killed or captured.
However, three more are said to be on the run after a battle with Russian forces.
Despite the end of the crisis, adults and children remain unaccounted for, and some relatives of hostages are still at the scene.
Russian authorities insisted the militants initiated violence as emergency teams entered the school, with the hostage-takers' permission, to collect the bodies of several men who had been executed earlier.
The siege happened on the first day of term, when hundreds of parents are thought to have been inside the school participating in festivities with their children.
Local officials said 10 Arabs were among the 27 hostage-takers killed. A further three were arrested, they added.
President Putin told local officials: "All of Russia grieves with you."
Putin arrived in Beslan on an unannounced visit, going directly to a local hospital where many of the injured are being treated.
In his first public comments since the disaster, Putin promised that victims would receive help with their treatment and rehabilitation.
The President said special forces troops had "showed incredible courage" and "sustained heavy losses".
Putin insisted that the use of force by the military had not been planned. "The situation developed very rapidly and unexpectedly," he said.
Questions are being raised about the Russian authorities' handling of the situation.
After a two-day stand-off, an explosion in the building on Friday triggered fierce clashes between the hostage-takers and security forces.
As Friday began, negotiations between the authorities and the hostage-takers were under way and it seemed the crisis might be controlled.
It seems the violence began as medical workers drove into the school complex in a pre-agreed trip to collect the bodies of casualties who had been killed when the school was first seized.
A sudden explosion, which some reports suggest may have gone off accidentally, seems to have prompted hostage-takers to begin shooting indiscriminately.
Hostages panicked and tried to flee, while Russian special forces stormed the school in an unplanned operation.
More than 700 people were injured. The health ministry of North Ossetia told Interfax news agency that by the early hours of Saturday morning local time, 531 people remained in the local hospital - half of them children.
Interfax agency reports that two cargo planes carrying medical personnel and equipment have now arrived in the region from Moscow.
Specialist hospitals in Moscow are reportedly on stand-by to receive critically ill victims.
US President George Walker Bush has described the events as "another grim reminder" of terrorism. "We stand with the people of Russia, we send them our thoughts and prayers in this terrible situation," he said.
Many Arab governments have expressed revulsion at the bloodshed.
European Union (EU) foreign ministers meeting in Brussels offered their condolences, but said the EU would ask Russia to explain how such a tragedy could have been allowed to happen.
According to observers the EU statement implies concern not only about the behaviour of Russian security forces at the siege, but also about Moscow's reliance on harsh military force in Chechnya.
It is worth mentioning here that last week, more than 80 people died when two aircraft were destroyed in what authorities say were suicide bomb attacks by Chechen militants.
A few days later, a female suicide bomber blew herself up near a Moscow metro station, killing 10. And several people died in raids by Chechen separatists on the capital, Grozny, before last Sunday's presidential elections in the troubled republic.
A hostage who escaped told Associated Press Television News that the militants numbered 28, including women in camouflage. The hostage, who identified himself only as Teimuraz, said the militants began wiring the school with explosives as soon as they took control on Wednesday.
The commandos stormed the school on the third day of the crisis, moving in after about 30 women and children broke out of the building, some bloodied and screaming. Russian officials said the violence came when — under an agreement reached on Friday morning — emergency workers entered the school to retrieve the bodies of hostages who had been killed.
A local legislator, Azamat Kadykov, had told the hostages’ relatives that 20 adult men had been executed. Andreyev said there were two large explosions, and people started running. He said militants fired at fleeing hostages, and security forces opened return fire, along with civilian residents of the town who had armed themselves. Two emergency services workers were killed and three wounded during the chaos, Interfax reported.
Women escaping the building were seen fainting and others, some covered in blood, were carried away on stretchers. Many children — parched, hungry and only partly clothed because of the stifling heat in the gym — ran out screaming and begging for water. "They didn’t let me go to the toilet for three days, not once. They never let me drink or go to the toilet," Teimuraz, the escaped hostage, told APTN.
Interfax said the school’s roof collapsed — possibly from the explosives some militants had strapped to their bodies. The militants had reportedly threatened to blow up the building if authorities used force.
Andreyev and Aslakhanov said there had been no plans to storm the school and that authorities had pinned hopes on negotiations. Russian President Vladimir Putin had vowed the hostages’ safety was his top priority and the security services said the sudden assault on the school had not been planned.
"I want to point out that we had not planned any kind of armed action. We offered the continuation of the ongoing talks to peacefully release the hostages," said the FSB regional head, Valery Andreyev. He said the chain of events was triggered when two powerful explosions went off around the school building at around 1:00 pm (0900 GMT).
Police sapper said on Russian television that bombs hung in basketball hoops in school gym exploded, triggering commando storming of building. The militants had freed about 26 women and children on Thursday, and Russian officials and others had been in on-and-off contacts with the hostage-takers, but with few signs of progress toward a resolution.
After the fighting broke out, Russian media reported that 13 of the militants escaped, and Channel One TV reported late Friday that three of the attackers were arrested after trying to escape in civilian dress. Ekho Moskvy radio reported that a suspected female hostage-taker was detained when she approached an area hospital wearing a white robe.
The roof collapse left a jagged opening to the sky, and one section of the sprawling school red-brick looked like the wall had been punched in. Huge columns of smoke rose from the school. Windows were shattered, part of roof was gone and another part was charred.
The militants had broken most of the windows early in the crisis in what might have been an effort to prevent authorities from using gas to knock them out against them. Less than a kilometre from the school, anguished relatives mobbed arriving ambulances to see who was inside. Some two dozen children lay on bloodied stretchers under a grove of pine and spruce trees.
Parents and relatives hugged and kissed them, feeding them water. One weeping man led away a young boy muddied and bleeding. The smell of gunpowder lingered in the air around the school.
President Putin’s adviser on Chechnya, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, also said a number of the dead militants were Arabs. Regional President Alexander Dzasokhov said the hostage-takers had demanded that Russian troops leave Chechnya — the first clear indication of their demands and of a direct link between Wednesday’s attack on the school and the ongoing war in the neighbouring region.
The militants seized the school in North Ossetia on Wednesday, a day after a suicide bomb blast outside a Moscow subway station killed at least nine people, and just over a week after two Russian passenger jets crashed nearly simultaneously after what authorities believed were explosions on board triggered by suicide bombers, possibly Chechen women.
52 Hours of Horror and Death for Captives at Russian School
Published: September 5, 2004
BESLAN, Russia, Sept. 4 - Long before the first bombs exploded in Middle School No. 1, marking the beginning of a ferocious battle that left hundreds of schoolchildren and their parents and teachers dead, the hostages had descended to near despair.
"At first I thought it was a joke," said one survivor, Emma Gagiyeva, 13, who sat numbly on a couch on Saturday, as the death toll climbed relentlessly, to 330, with many children still missing. "Then they started to shoot the windows, and glass fell on the people. They were shooting above our heads and they killed a few people, and I knew it was real."
She and other survivors and their families began to give a coherent account of the 52 hours of killings and captivity at the hands of masked gunmen that erupted in a catastrophic chain of events on Friday, when two large explosions set off battles between the captors and Russian forces. At least 1,200 people had been crammed into the school gymnasium, with no food and little water, and with a frightening network of bombs laced overhead.
Temperatures had become stifling, survivors and their families said Saturday, and some students were so hungry they had taken to eating the wilted bouquets they had carried to school. One boy said he was hoping for a bomb to go off, so the crisis might end. The terrorists teased their child captives, and shot at least one man to demonstrate the penalty for breaking their rules.
Even as Beslan was consumed by agonizing worry and grief, interviews with the survivors told of a moment when the first day of school became the opening of an ordeal.
The day began with an assembly in the schoolyard, with children streaming in with parents and brothers and sisters to open the school year. It was like years past, until the moment when the newly arriving first graders were to be introduced. It had always been a tender moment in years past. This year, people heard shouts, and saw something alarming: a line of masked gunmen advancing through the yard.
"The terrorists ran in yelling, 'Allahu Akhbar,' " said Asamaz Bekoyev, 11, who escaped with his mother and brother and lay in his bed on Saturday at his grandmother's house, being treated for cuts and minor burns.
A brief gun battle ensued, as the terrorists overwhelmed the few police officers at the ceremony, who had been caught unaware.
With shouts and threats, the gunmen herded the entire school assembly into the gymnasium and told to sit on the floor. The terrorists knew how to force the group to submit. The captives would soon learn that being told to sit meant just that.
Asamaz's older brother, Azamat, 14, said one of the hostages, an Ossetian man, tried to stand but as he rose to his feet a terrorist shot him in the forehead. The man fell straight to the floor, dead. "I saw this with my eyes," the boy said.
Another man tried to run out the back door to freedom, but a terrorist followed him, calmly sighted him through the rifle and shot him in the back. The man's body was then dragged through the gymnasium by the feet, leaving a long trail of blood.
The cruel rules of the siege were now established: obey or die.
Details followed: the hostages were allowed to speak only in Russian, so the captors could understand every word. They were told they must remain in their places. They were told to hand in their cellphones.
"They said, 'If we hear somebody's telephone ringing, 20 people around you will be killed,' " said Serafima Bekoyeva, 44, the mother of the two boys.
An order of business was soon under way. As hundreds of students huddled together, the terrorists gathered about 10 of the adult male hostages and enlisted them to help place bombs throughout the gym.
First they produced their makeshift bombs. Some were large plastic beer bottles packed with explosives, others rectangular, bricklike packets, wrapped tightly in brown tape, the survivors said.
The captors strung rope between the two basketball rims, and hung a line of these explosives overhead. The basketball nets themselves were tied shut, forming mesh baskets, into which more bombs were placed. Other bombs were arrayed along the floor and walls; the hostages estimated 20 in all, strung together with remarkable speed and skill.
Putin Says Russia Faces Full 'War' to Divide NationBy STEVEN LEE MYERS
Published: September 5, 2004
MOSCOW, Sept. 4 - In a rare address to his nation, coming at a time of grave crisis, President Vladimir V. Putin said Saturday that the school siege in the southern city of Beslan was an attack on all of Russia and called for the mobilization of society to resist what he called "a total and full-scale war" to splinter the country.
Mr. Putin spoke as the death toll from the violent end of the hostage crisis at Middle School No. 1 in Beslan rose to 330; half of the dead were children. Officials warned that the number of dead would rise further in the city, not far from Chechnya, as workers searched the school's charred wreckage and as more victims succumbed to their wounds in hospitals.
"This is challenge to all of Russia, to all our people," Mr. Putin said. "This is an attack against all of us."
[Russian Deputy Prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky said Sunday that according to the latest information, 32 terrorists had been involved in the hostage-taking, and the bodies of 30 of them had been found, the Interfax news agency said, as reported by the Associated Press. Including the militants, at least 380 people died, according to the A.P.]
Mr. Putin sought to answer the seething anger that many here have expressed after a series of terrorist acts that in 10 wrenching days have killed more than 500 people. The worst was in Beslan, where heavily armed insurgents, some wearing explosives, seized the school on Wednesday, corralled 1,200 schoolchildren, parents and teachers into its gymnasium and threatened to kill them. On Friday, large explosions caused a panic and Russian troops charged the building as children began to escape, but hundreds died in the melee.
Authorities said they believed that the terrorists were Islamic militants, mostly Chechens.
Mr. Putin called the siege "a horrible tragedy." Then, speaking of the sweep of Russia's post-Soviet history, he criticized corruption in the judiciary, the inefficiency of law enforcement and the difficult transition to capitalism that he acknowledged had left few resources to secure Russia's borders in a changing and dangerous epoch.
For Mr. Putin, who projects the image of unswerving leadership, it was a striking acknowledgment that not all was well under his watch.
"We have to admit that we failed to recognize the complexity and danger of the processes going on in our country and the world as a whole," said Mr. Putin, who spoke for 10 minutes, standing alone in front of Russia's flag and a wood-paneled backdrop. "At any rate, we failed to react to them adequately. We demonstrated our weakness, and the weak are beaten."
Mr. Putin did not accept personal responsibility for Russia's failings, but he echoed a feeling of helplessness and fear that has shaken the country, demanding, as many here have, that security and law-enforcement agencies work more efficiently to counter the threat of terrorism. He also suggested that Russian society itself needed to develop to succeed in the fight.
"Events in other countries prove that terrorists meet the most effective rebuff where they confront not only the power of the state, but also an organized and united civil society," he said.
He did not elaborate, but many Russians have been citing the experiences of the United States, Israel and Spain as more effective in protecting their citizens. A policeman, guarding Chekhov's former estate in the town of Melikhovo, on Saturday contrasted Russia's helplessness to the resolve of the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Our government is to blame," said the officer, who would only give his first name, Valery. "They do not take care of their citizens. In the U.S., after Sept. 11, there were not any more attacks. Here they have not done anything. We get kicked from all sides."
Mr. Putin appeared determined to show that the government would and could act. He said he would soon propose measures to strengthen the nation's unity, to coordinate the political and security structures of Russia's Caucasian republics, and to create a new emergency-management system. The failures of the existing system were painfully obvious in the government's confused and contradictory responses after the bombings of two passenger airliners on Aug. 24 and during the siege in Beslan, in the southern republic of North Ossetia.
MOSCOW (Sept 7.) - Russia's NTV television showed graphic footage shot by the militants who took more than a thousand hostages in a school in Beslan in the south of the country last week.
The pictures showed militants including a masked and heavily armed man and a woman in Arab-style black headdress, as well as hundreds of hostages sitting in the gymnasium which later became a battleground. At least 335 people, around a half of them children, were killed.
Blood was smeared on the floor. Bombs hung from a basketball hoop and from a wire suspended across the room. Another lay on the floor in plastic container.
One militant squatted, apparently working on a bomb with tape and wire clippers. The few spaces left by the hostages, including women fanning themselves in the heat and children with their hands on their heads, were strewn with wires and what appeared to be bomb-making equipment.
One militant stood with his foot on a book which the commentary said contained a trip-switch to activate a bomb. Elsewhere a rocket-propelled grenade lay unattended.
The video lasted around a minute and ended with the sound of one of the hostage-takers murmuring into his mobile phone. He was not speaking Russian.
09/07/04 14:46 ET
|RUSSIA TERRORISM - PLANES|