compiled by Dee Finney

updated 9-7-04


Posted on Wed, Sep. 01, 2004

Several people died in the initial rebel raid on the school in Beslan.


 I M A G E S   A N D   R E L A T E D   C O N T E N T 
Russian soldiers rescue a child in North Ossetia. AP
Russian soldiers rescue a child in North Ossetia. AP
R E L A T E D    L I N K S
Recent terror-related incidents in Russia
Russians mourn victims of suicide bombing

Hundreds Held in Russian School; 8 Killed


Associated Press

BELSAN, RussiaMore than a dozen militants wearing suicide-bomb belts seized a southern Russian school in a region bordering Chechnya on Wednesday, taking hostage about 400 people - half of them children - and threatening to blow up the building if police storm it. At least eight people have been killed, one of them a school parent.

In a tense standoff, Russian forces wearing camouflage and carrying heavy-caliber machine guns took up positions on the perimeter of Middle School No. 1 in the town of Belsan, 10 miles north of the regional capital of Vladikavkaz. About 1,000 people, mostly parents, were massed outside demanding information and accusing the government of failing to protect their children.

The attack was the latest blamed on secessionist Chechen rebels, coming a day after a suicide bomber killed 10 people in the capital and a week after near-simultaneous explosions blamed on terrorists caused two Russian planes to crash, killing all 90 people on board. The surge in violence was apparently timed around last Sunday's Chechen presidential election.

President Vladimir Putin interrupted his working holiday Wednesday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for a second time and returned to Moscow. On arrival at the airport, he held an immediate meeting with the heads of Russia's Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service, the Interfax news agency said.

The standoff began after a ceremony marking the first day of the Russian school year, when it was likely that many parents had accompanied their children. About 17 militants, men and women, stormed the school and herded captives into the gymnasium. They forced children to stand at the windows and warned they would blow up the school if police intervened, said Alexei Polyansky, a police spokesman for southern Russia.

The ITAR-Tass news agency, citing local hospitals, reported that seven people died of injuries in the hospital and one was killed at the site during the seizure. Regional emergency workers told The Associated Press that two bodies were visible near the school, which has grades one through 11.

Fatima Khabalova, spokeswoman for the regional parliament, earlier said one of the dead was a father who brought his child to the school and was shot when he tried to resist the raiders. She also said at least nine people had been injured in gunfire after the hostage-taking, including three teachers and two police officers.

Kazbek Dzantiyev, head of the region's Interior Ministry, said that the hostages have threatened "for every destroyed fighter, they will kill 50 children and for every injured fighter - 20 (children)," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

At one point, a girl wearing a floral print dress and a red bow in her hair apparently fled from the school, her hand held by a flak-jacketed soldier. An older woman followed them. Ruslan Ayamov, spokesman for North Ossetia's Interior Ministry told The Associated Press that 12 children and one adult managed to escape after hiding in the building's boiler room.

"I was standing near the gates, music was playing, when I saw three armed people running with guns. At first I though it was a joke when they fired in the air and we fled," a teenager, Zarubek Tsumartov, said on Russian television.

Suspicion in both the school attack and the Moscow bombing fell on Chechen rebels or their sympathizers, but there was no evidence of any direct link. "In essence, war has been declared on us, where the enemy is unseen and there is no front," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said.

The latest violence came around last Sunday's presidential elections in Chechnya, a Kremlin-backed move aimed at undermining support for the insurgents by establishing a modicum of civil order in the war-shattered republic. The previous Chechen president, Akhmad Kadyrov, was killed along with more than 20 others in a bombing on May 9.

The militants inside the school released one hostage with a list of their demands, including the freedom of fighters detained over a series of attacks on police facilities in neighboring Ingushetia in June, ITAR-Tass reported.

They also seek talks with regional officials and a well-known pediatrician, Leonid Roshal, who aided hostages during the deadly seizure of a Moscow theater in 2002, news reports said.

Parents of the seized children recorded a videocassette appeal Putin to fulfill the terrorists' demands, Khabalova said. The text of the appeal was not immediately available.

The violence was the latest to plague the government of Putin, who came to power vowing to crush the Chechen rebellion. Terrorism fears in Russia have risen markedly following the plane crashes and the suicide bombing outside a Moscow subway station Tuesday night. The blast by a female attacker tore through a busy area between the station and a department store, killing 10 people and wounded more than 50.

A militant Muslim web site published a statement claiming responsibility for the bombing on behalf of the "Islambouli Brigades," a group that also claimed responsibility for the airliner crashes. The statements could not immediately be verified.

The statement said Tuesday's bombing was a blow against Putin, "who slaughtered Muslims time and again." Putin has refused to negotiate with rebels in predominantly Muslim Chechnya who have fought Russian forces for most of the past decade, saying they must be wiped out.

Several female suicide bombers allegedly connected with the rebels have caused carnage in Moscow and other Russian cities in a series of attacks in recent years.

Many of the women bombers are believed to be so-called "black widows," who have lost husbands or male relatives in the fighting that has gripped Chechnya for most of the past decade. Investigators of the plane crashes are seeking information about two Chechen women believed to have been aboard - one on each plane.

Regional emergency officials said about 400 people including some 200 children were being held captive in the Belsen school, ITAR-Tass reported. A regional police official said the hostages had been herded into the school gymnasium. There were 17 attackers, both male and female, Interfax said, citing Ismel Shaov, a regional spokesman for the Federal Security Service.


Hostage Crisis At Russian School Drags Into Second Day

POSTED: 6:34 am EDT September 2, 2004

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.
Timeline: Russian Terror

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 Remembered

The 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
By Jonathan Marcus
BBC diplomatic correspondent

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 School Hostage Crisis May Have Killed 250 (Update4)

Sept. 4, 2004 (Bloomberg) -- At least 250 people died at the Russian school where terrorists took hundreds of parents and children hostage, Moscow-based Rossiya television said, citing a crisis unit at the scene in Beslan, North Ossetia.

Russian troops stormed the school yesterday, ending a two- day siege by an armed group demanding independence for neighboring Chechnya. A group linked to al-Qaeda terrorist chief Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the assault on a Middle East Web site.

``We have had many losses,'' Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a broadcast by Rossiya. ``We weren't preparing to storm. The events were developing in a fast and unexpected way. This terrorist attack was special because children were attacked.''

Troops launched their assault as terrorists fired on hostages escaping the school's gymnasium, said Valery Andreev, head of the local division of the Federal Security Service. The group planted bombs in the gymnasium and some have yet to be discharged, the Beslan crisis unit told Interfax news agency. More bodies may be found as debris is cleared, the Interfax report said.

The school raid, the biggest hostage-taking assault Russia has experienced, was the fourth Chechnya-related terrorist attack in 10 days and pushed the combined death toll to more than 300 people. Russian authorities have blamed international Islamic terrorists for the attacks.

Al-Qaeda Statement

A group loyal to Ayman al-Zawahiri, second-in-command to al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, claimed responsibility for the assault in a statement posted on an Islamic Web site, Islamic Minbar. The authenticity of the statement cannot be verified.

``The killing of the Russian Crusader Butchers in Ossetia is the start of a street and gang war the heroic mujaheeden will conduct against the European security forces and army,'' said the statement.

The attacks come five years after Putin rose to power as prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin, promising to quell a rebellion by Muslims in Chechnya.

``Security is about broader building of institutions, and it's pretty clear that the Russian leadership has failed to do that,'' said Celeste Wallander, director for Russia at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. ``Putin hasn't used the last five years to do that. We are beginning to see the Russian people criticizing'' him.

Hospital Visit

Putin early today visited Beslan Clinical Hospital, where 556 former hostages, including 332 children, were treated.

``All Russia is grieving, thanking and praying'' for North Ossetia, Putin told North Ossetia President Alexander Dzasokhov on television. He ordered roads and borders in North Ossetia to be closed while security forces search for terrorists who may have escaped.

The siege at Beslan, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of the Chechen capital Grozny, may strengthen Russia's case that its battle with Chechen separatists is a front in the global fight against al-Qaeda and allied groups that President George W. Bush has called a threat to U.S. security.

Of 20 gunmen killed by Russian troops at the school, 10 were from Arab countries, Andreev said. A hostage, identified as Teimuraz, told Rossiya there were 28 people in the armed group, including women who wore camouflage uniforms. They wired the school with explosives, he said.

Worst Attack

The violence at Beslan may be Russia's worst-ever terrorist attack, surpassing the death toll from the October 2002 siege of a Moscow theater, when Chechen rebels took more than 800 hostages.

At least 129 hostages died as special forces stormed the theater, killing all 41 hostage-takers.

In Beslan, the armed group took more than 1,000 people, mostly children, hostage on Sept. 1 as they assembled for the first day of the school year, an occasion widely celebrated in Russia with children and their parents wearing their best clothes and carrying flowers for teachers.

The two-day standoff broke into a shootout as a group of about 40 children tried to escape, Russian security forces said.

The hostages fled after two bombs went off just after 1 p.m. Moscow time as rescuers entered the school, with the terrorists' permission, to collect the bodies of 10 to 20 people killed when the siege began, Andreev said. The terrorists started firing at the fleeing children, and armed bystanders fired back, he said.

Plane, Subway Attacks

The shootout and the storming of the school weren't shown on television because authorities cordoned off the area.

``In terms of politics, the ambiguity about who started the shooting may play to Putin's favor,'' said Michael McFaul, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Prior to the raid in Beslan, two passenger planes crashed on Aug. 24 when bombs went off, killing 89 people, and 10 died on Monday from a suicide bomb attack near a Moscow subway station. A group calling itself the Islambouli Brigades, which Putin said is linked to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the plane and subway attacks. In a statement today, the group denied involvement in Beslan.

``We declare that none of our cells had any relationship with the Ossetia operation and we didn't provide money or arms to this operation,'' said the Islambouli Brigades in a statement on the Islamic Minbar Web site, the same site on which supporters of Al-Zawahiri claimed responsibility.

The Chechen separatist movement fell under the influence of Muslim fundamentalists amid Russian brutality toward civilians in a war from 1994 to 1996, when Arab mercenaries joined the conflict. Russians and Chechens have been criticized by groups such as Amnesty International for mistreating civilians.

Russian Invasion

The armed group in Beslan had demanded the separation of Chechnya from Russia, North Ossetian President Dzasokhov told Agence France-Presse.

Russia has about 80,000 soldiers in Chechnya. The republic on Sunday elected Alu Alkhanov president in a vote organized by the pro-Putin government to replace Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in May. Rebels called the elections illegitimate.

Russian troops invaded Chechnya in August 1999 for the second time in five years to suppress a separatist rebellion. Since then, Putin has refused any compromise, saying the campaign in Chechnya is part of the international war on terrorism. North Ossetia borders Chechnya.

``The second Chechen war governed the Kremlin's choice of a successor to Yeltsin and provided a political springboard for Vladimir Putin,'' Dmitry Trenin, a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a book ``Russia's Restless Frontier,'' published this year. ``By the end of his first presidential term, however, the lingering conflict had become a liability that threatened to mar Putin's political legacy.''

Putin's popularity has been declining this year, according to opinion polls by the Moscow-based Levada Center, an independent agency. His approval rating stood at 68 percent last month, down from 81 percent at the start of the year and the lowest level for Putin since December 2000, Levada said, based on surveys of 1,600 people across Russia. The surveys had a margin of error of 3.4 percent.

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Last Updated: September 4, 2004 04:47 EDT

  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.


Musa Sadulayev/Associated Press A wounded girl held a cross in her hand in a Beslan hospital.


Hundreds Die as Siege at a Russian School Ends in Chaos


Published: September 4, 2004

BESLAN, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 4 - The siege of a school here in southern Russia ended Friday in panic, violence and death 52 hours after it began. At least 250 people - most of them students, teachers and parents - died, according to official reports and witnesses, after two large explosions set off pitched battles between heavily armed captors and Russian forces that continued for hours.

[More than 340 people, including 155 children, were killed in the violence that ended a hostage standoff with militants at a southern Russian school, a prosecutor said Saturday, according to the Associated Press.]

Ambulances, police cars and any other free vehicle rushed as many as 700 people to hospitals in frenzied convoys that careered through the streets of this small, leafy city in the republic of North Ossetia.

Early Saturday, 531 people remained hospitalized, including 283 children - 92 of whom were said to be in "very grave" condition, The Associated Press reported.

Scores of hostages survived, staggering from the school even as intense gunfire sputtered and grenades exploded around them. Many were barely dressed, their faces strained with fear and exhaustion, their bodies bloodied by shrapnel and gunshots. Many others never got out. Their bodies lay in the charred wreckage of Middle School No. 1's gymnasium, the roof of which had collapsed and burned, a police officer said. Many people here feared the toll would rise.

Gunfire and explosions erupted sporadically in and around the school deep into the night, as pockets of guerrillas continued to fight, including three hunkered inside a nearby building, reportedly holding an unknown number of hostages. Officials did not declare the crisis over until 11:30 p.m., more than 10 hours after the violence began.

The battle around the school - which Russian officials said erupted unexpectedly after the explosions, which still have not been fully explained - ended a siege that began when more than two dozen masked and camouflaged militants stormed the school on Wednesday as children and parents gathered for a festive first day of classes.

The number of dead and wounded far surpassed the number of hostages that were reported being held, prompting accusations here that the authorities deliberately played down the severity of the crisis. On Friday, a presidential adviser, Aslambek Aslakhanov, said for the first time that as many as 1,200 hostages might have been held; earlier, officials had put the number at around 350.

President Vladimir V. Putin, confronted with perhaps the worst crisis of his five years in office, did not immediately address what unfolded here on Friday, but arrived early Saturday and visited a hospital. "Today all of Russia suffers for you," he said in a televised meeting with Aleksandr S. Dzasokhov, the president of North Ossetia.

Mr. Putin ordered security forces to seal the city and block the region's borders in an apparent attempt to track down any hostage-takers who may have escaped.

Other officials, in Moscow and in North Ossetia, said on Friday that Russian forces had not instigated the firefights but had been forced to return fire and then to storm the school following the first explosions, which occurred just after 1 p.m.

"Taking advantage of the panic, hostages began to escape," Lev Dzugayev, a spokesman for Mr. Dazasokhov, said in an interview. "The bandits began shooting them in the back. The special forces on our side had to cover the fleeing hostages. This is unfortunately how it happened."

Even the preliminary toll of this hostage crisis exceeded that of Russia's last one, when at least 41 armed guerrillas stormed a theater in Moscow and held hundreds of hostages in October 2002, a siege that ended with striking similarities. A daring rescue by commandos killed all the guerrillas, but also 129 of the hostages, most from nerve gas pumped into the building.

The dead this time included several Russia soldiers and security officials and more than 20 of an estimated 30 or more guerrillas. Three of the attackers were reported captured and at least a few were reported to have escaped.

Maj. Gen. Valery A. Andreyev, director of North Ossetia's branch of the Federal Security Service, said half of the dead fighters were foreigners, apparently from Arab countries. If verified, that would comport with the Kremlin's assertions that Chechnya's rebels were receiving aid and manpower from abroad.

The afternoon's violence ended the fretful vigil by the relatives since Wednesday, for many families joyously, but for others grievously. Two girls who escaped, tattered and wan but apparently unhurt, emerged from a car not far from the school and raced to their family's courtyard, where they met and hugged their mother.

The morgue at the city's main hospital, though, overflowed. More than 20 bodies lay on stretchers on grass outside. Men and women filed through lifting the sheets that covered the dead, which included children and Russian soldiers or security officers. Recognition brought wrenching, piercing wails. A mother in a red and white blouse knelt on the ground, weeping as she kissed her dead daughter's face.

There were conflicting accounts of the source and the reason for the initial explosions. Some witnesses and officials cited by news agencies said the attackers had mishandled a bomb, while others said two female fighters had detonated explosive belts wrapped around them. Sergei N. Ignatchenko, the spokesman for Russia's Federal Security Service, said the explosions might have been staged by the attackers to sow confusion and to escape.

Some of the attackers, he said in an interview in Moscow, changed into civilian clothes and blended into the panicked crowd fleeing the building. He and others said some of the guerrillas, including a sniper on the roof or in a second-story window, had fired on those who fled.

"When they opened fire, we were compelled to give the order for the special forces to attack in order to save people," he said.

The carnage began even as negotiators held intermittent talks with the fighters, the morning after they had let 26 women and babies leave the school. The Kremlin had sent Mr. Aslakhanov as its envoy.

The guerrillas had also agreed to allow emergency workers to remove the bodies of those who died in the initial seizure of the school. They had just left the school when the explosions occurred, officials said.

On Friday morning, Mr. Dzasokhov told hundreds of relatives gathered in the city's House of Culture that the use of force was not being considered but that the behavior of the fighters, who rebuffed offers of safe passage and who refused to allow food or water into the school, was trying everyone's patience.

He said the authorities had turned to Chechnya's separatist leaders to help negotiate a peaceful end to a crisis that has transfixed and horrified a country that has endured a week of terrorist attacks and other violence stemming from the war in Chechnya.

Mr. Dzasokhov said he had received instructions to open a channel to Alsan Maskhadov, who was Chechnya's president until fleeing Russian forces in 1999. Mr. Dzasokhov and Ruslan Aushev, the regional leader who negotiated the release of 26 hostages on Thursday, both called Mr. Maskhadov's chief representative abroad, Akhmed Zakayev, on Thursday and again on Friday.

That appeared to reverse the Kremlin's policy of never negotiating with people that Mr. Putin calls terrorists. After the assault, a Kremlin spokesman, Aleksandr Smirnov, distanced Mr. Putin from the contacts, saying they were "the personal initiative" of Mr. Aushev.

Mr. Zakayev, who lives in exile in London and is wanted by the Russians on criminal charges, said in a telephone interview that he and Mr. Maskhadov were prepared to assist.

"I assured them that President Maskhadov was as distraught as they were," Mr. Zakayev said before chaos fell on this city. "He is ready without any conditions to make all efforts to save these children and resolve this crisis."

The contacts with Mr. Zakayev - the first since a fleeting meeting at a Moscow airport in November 2001 - underscored the evident desperation to end the standoff. The entreaties, obviously, came too late.

The first explosions, separated by less than a minute, sent a large, dusty white cloud over the school and were followed by a period of ferocious gunfire. Some residents joined Russian police and army forces in firing at the building; others rushed the school, under fire, to escort or carry out the fleeing hostages and take them to the hospital.

In one vehicle was a teenage girl, her black hair matted to her bloody face, her mouth open, apparently gravely wounded. "Where is the hospital?" the driver of a Mercedes screamed. Inside were two adults with children on their laps.

Teimuraz Kanukov said he had shuttled six times between the school and the hospital ferrying hostages, three wounded, three dead. His shirt was soaked with blood. "These were children," he said, "shot in the head." Eight of his own relatives were among the hostages, he said, then headed back toward the school.

By 2 p.m., officials announced that commandoes had entered the school, but fighting continued as some hostage-takers tried to escape. As helicopters circled overhead, a small group of fleeing fighters occupied a nearby house, where fighting raged for hours.

Fierce fighting broke out by a railroad crossing hundreds of feet from the school, apparently as a separate group of fighters fled southward. Half an hour later, two tanks headed toward the school, almost immediately firing heavy shells.

Russian special forces have earned a reputation for rashness in hostage situations, particularly with the storming of the Moscow theater. But evidence suggesting that Russian forces had not planned to storm the building could be seen around the two tanks, whose soldiers milled about, evidently in confusion after the initial blast, before rallying and heading into the battle.

Hours after the hostages streamed from the school, several fighters remained positioned on the school grounds and battled fiercely, indicating not only their suicidal determination but also a high degree of planning. "They showed up with crates and crates of ammunition," Mr. Ignatchenko said.

The violence, particularly as it involved children, induced vigilantism. There were reports of angry Ossetians attacking captured guerrillas. A man believed to be one of the fighters made his way to an alley near the school and hid under an army truck before being captured by Russian soldiers during the fighting. A crowd then set upon the manand beat him, tearing at his clothes, while the soldiers tried to shuffle him away.

"Everybody tried to beat him," said Khariton Valiyev, 58, who was in the crowd. "People wanted to tear him to pieces. I myself would have pulled his eyes from his head with my fingers."

That fighter's fate was not known.

C.J. Chivers reported from Beslan for this article, and Steven Lee Myers from Moscow. Viktor Klimenkocontributed reporting from Beslan.


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 Nation


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 Rallies to Mourn Victims; Putin Refuses Talks 

Sept. 7, 2004 (Bloomberg) -- Russia observed a second day of national mourning, as about 100,000 people gathered near the Kremlin to protest against terrorists who seized a school in Beslan last week, an attack that left at least 335 dead.

``We are grieving bitterly, but our pain won't turn into fear,'' Vasily Lanovoi, a popular Russian actor, told the crowd.

The raid was Russia's worst terrorist attack and the fourth related to Chechnya in the space of 10 days. Two passenger planes crashed Aug. 24 after explosions, killing 89 people, and 10 died after a suicide bomb attack Monday near a Moscow subway station. Russia today made its first arrests related to the airliner bombings, Interfax reported.

Demonstrations of solidarity were carried out across Russia and messages of support were sent from many countries, with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair describing the attack as a ``terrible atrocity.'' About 150,000 Italians walked in silence through Rome last night, holding candles lit at sunset, to remember the children killed.

Jetliner Arrests

In one of the first arrests in the Russian jetliner crashes last month, Armen Arutyunov ``was detained under the anti- terrorism law'' an unidentified official close to the investigation told Interfax. Arutyunov, who was allegedly illegally selling tickets at the Moscow airport where the two doomed jets took off, is cooperating with investigators, the news agency said.

Arutyunov has identified from photographs two women authorities suspect of blowing up the jets, and said he helped them get tickets, the unidentified person told Interfax, adding that Arutyunov said he didn't know the women before. Another person was arrested as well, Interfax said, without giving details.

The third day of funerals for victims of the school attack was held in Beslan, North Ossetia, state-run Rossiya television said. The station said 120 people are missing, down from 260 reported missing yesterday, without explaining the reduction.

Terrorists demanding independence for Chechnya took 1,181 people, mostly children, hostage in the school on Sept. 1 when children and their parents came to celebrate the first day of the school year.

Russia's NTV television showed video shot inside the school before it was stormed, showing the school gym full of hostages and terrorists wearing bombs. About six masked insurgents kept guard and prepared more explosives, Reuters reported.


Hospitals are treating 332 people wounded in Beslan, including 202 children, said Vladimir Ivanov, an aide to North Ossetia's emergency situations minister Murat Tkhostov. In all, 323 people have died, he said, declining to explain why the number is lower than the one given by the republic's government.

There are 42 fragments of human bodies, and it is difficult to say how many bodies they belonged to, he said. Genetic tests are needed to identify some of those killed by bomb blasts in the North Ossetian school, Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky told state television Rossiya.

``There are very many victims in the morgue, charred and burned so much that it's difficult to determine the child's gender,'' Vissarion Kalagov, chief surgeon of the main hospital of Vladikavkaz, the North Ossetian capital, said on NTV television.

Russia hasn't identified any Chechens among the terrorists in Beslan, the country's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told Western academics at a meeting today, Harvard University's Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies associate director Marshall Goldman said on Radio Echo Moscow. Goldman participated in meetings with Ivanov and Russian President Vladimir Putin.


``Putin did talk extensively about Chechnya and he's worried that if it goes, then. . .the country may disintegrate,'' Goldman said.

Fewer than half of the terrorists killed have been identified so far, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Kastyshin said. He confirmed no Chechens were among the identified corpses. The security services have said 32 terrorists were killed in Beslan.

``We are dealing with the direct intervention of international terrorism against Russia, a full-scale war,'' Putin told the nation in a televised address Saturday. ``The mobilization of the nation in the face of the common danger is the most important thing.''

Putin Rejects Talks

Putin yesterday rejected calls he hold talks with Chechen rebels, the Guardian reported from the meeting Goldman attended.

Putin, 51, said Western countries had no right to tell Russia to negotiate with ``child-killers'' as Russia didn't advise them to talk to Osama bin Laden, the newspaper said.

He said there was no connection between Russia's policies in Chechnya and the events in Beslan, the Guardian reported. A Kremlin spokeswoman declined to say whether a transcript of the meeting will be published on the Kremlin Web site, as is the usual practice with Putin's speeches.

Some demonstrators today carried placards critical of Putin and his Chechen policies. Police wrested a banner, accusing Putin of ``state terrorism,'' away from them, without arresting anyone.

Spain offered to fund holidays to its resorts for the families of the victims, Rossiya said, and the Czech Republic is working on a post-trauma treatment program, the newspaper Hospodarske Noviny reported. The governments of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia offered medicines, equipment and the possibility of treatment in the three former Soviet Baltic states, which joined the EU on May 1.

Wolfgang Thierse, the president of Germany's lower house of parliament, started the chamber's session today with words of sympathy for Russia and then led lawmakers in a minute of silence.

Putin postponed plans to travel to Germany on Sept. 10 and 11, by mutual agreement from both sides, the Kremlin press service said. It declined to give a reason for the cancellation.

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Last Updated: September 7, 2004 16:48 EDT
Russians Rally Against Terror, Bury Dead

Tuesday September 7, 2004 10:01 PM


Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW (AP) - Tens of thousands of people answered a government call and rallied outside the Kremlin on Tuesday in a show of solidarity against terrorism, nearly a week after militants seized a school in southern Russia in a standoff that claimed more than 350 lives, many of them children.

Mourners in the grief-stricken city of Beslan lowered caskets into the damp earth in a third day of burials from the siege, which officials have blamed on Chechens and other Islamic militants.

The Moscow crowd of about 130,000 people - some bearing banners saying, ``We won't give Russia to terrorists'' and ``The enemy will be crushed; victory will be ours'' - observed a moment of silence at 5 p.m. on the cobblestones near St. Basil's Cathedral, adjacent to the Kremlin.

The hourlong demonstration, which was organized by a pro-government trade union, echoed President Vladimir Putin's call for unity in vast, multiethnic Russia and sought to rally its people against enemies he says have aid from abroad.

``I have been crying for so many days and I came here to feel that we are actually together,'' said Vera Danilina.

Although some in Beslan have criticized Putin for not meeting with survivors of the tragedy, the president has avoided the brunt of the anger over the attacks.

``Of course I support him, and it's necessary to be even more harsh with terrorists,'' said Galina Kiselyova, a history teacher who was at the Moscow rally. ``We cannot let go of Chechnya - the Caucasus is ours.''

``Putin, we're with you,'' read a banner at the rally.

The demonstration was heavily advertised on state-controlled television, with prominent actors appealing to citizens to turn out. Banners bore the white, blue and red of Russia's flag, and speakers echoed Putin's statements that terrorists must be crushed.

``We came here to show that we are not indifferent to the series of terrorist acts that have taken place,'' said Alexander, a student at a Moscow technical college who did not give his surname.

However, the 18-year-old criticized Russian authorities' handling of the hostage crisis, and noted the rally was organized by authorities who ``told us where and when to come'' and was not spontaneous.

Militants seized the school in Beslan on Sept. 1, a day after a suicide bombing in Moscow killed 10 people and just over a week after two Russian passenger planes crashed following explosions and killed all 90 people aboard - attacks authorities suspect were linked to the war in Chechnya.

In footage broadcast Tuesday on NTV television, hundreds of hostages were shown seated in the school's cramped gym. Many of them had their hands behind their heads. A thick streak of blood stained the wood floor.

Football-sized bundles of explosives were attached to wires and strings hanging from the two basketball hoops. One attacker in camouflage and a black hood stood amid the hostages with a boot on what NTV said was a book rigged with a detonator.

In an interview late Monday, Putin angrily denied his government should overhaul its policy on Chechnya because of the attacks.

The world should have ``no more questions about our policy in Chechnya'' after the attackers shot children in the back, he told visiting foreign journalists and academics. He said the Chechen militant cause was aimed at fomenting conflict in southern Russia and breaking up the country.

``This is all about Russia's territorial integrity,'' he was quoted as saying.

Putin also said his government would conduct an internal investigation but no public inquiry into the siege, warning that a parliamentary probe could turn into ``a political show.''

Two opposition politicians have called for an investigation, including into whether the authorities had prior information about planned terrorist attacks and what the government was doing to stabilize the situation in Chechnya, where deadly fighting persists a decade after Russian forces first moved to crush separatists.

Putin rejected calls for negotiations with Chechen rebel representatives.

``Why don't you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace?'' Britain's Guardian newspaper quoted Putin as saying.

``You find it possible to set some limitations in your dealings with these bastards, so why should we talk to people who are child-killers?''

Differing with Putin, the Bush administration said only a political settlement could end the Chechen crisis. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. officials had met with Chechens in the past, although ``we do not meet with terrorists.'' There may be additional meetings in the future, though none is planned, he said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld condemned the killings in Beslan, saying ``civilized people can only express sympathy and solidarity with the Russian people.''

The Foreign Ministry said Russia will take new steps seeking the extradition of people it says are linked with terrorism, including Chechen rebel representatives Akhmed Zakayev and Ilyas Akhmadov. Zakayev, an envoy for separatist former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, has been granted asylum in Britain and Akhmadov in the United States.

A prosecutor said Monday the school attackers belonged to a group led by Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basayev, and a man identified by authorities as a detained hostage-taker said on state television that he was told Basayev and Maskhadov ordered the attack.

Zakayev, in Britain, denied Maskhadov was involved and alleged the detainee's televised statement had been extracted under torture.

In a statement faxed to media, he also said officials' statements about the presence of Arab and African fighters among the captors was disinformation.

In his interview, Putin said 10 of the attackers were of Arab descent, one was from North Ossetia and that others belonged to various ethnic groups of the former Soviet Union.

Maskhadov's brother-in-law, Shirvani Semiyev, said he was among up to 50 people taken to a Russian military base outside Chechnya's capital of Grozny on Friday and held for two days. All were relatives of Maskhadov and Basayev.

Semiyev said the men and boys were blindfolded, hands tied behind their backs, and forced to kneel on cold stone. He said a military officer questioned him about Maskhadov's whereabouts and his attitude to the school seizure.

On Saturday night, Semiyev said, a doctor came and asked if they needed medical care. Then a colonel came, said ``there had been a mistake, and that we would be put on a helicopter for home,'' Semiyev said. ``And we were actually brought home by helicopter.''

In an official statement cited by a pro-Kremlin Web site, the Russian Federal Security Service spokesman for Russian forces in Chechnya, Maj. Gen. Ilya Shabalkin, said federal forces had taken action to protect the rebel leaders' relatives from vigilante attempts at revenge for the school tragedy.

The official death toll of the three-day siege, which ended in deadly explosions and gunfire, stood at 335, plus 30 attackers; the regional health ministry said 326 of the dead had been hostages, and the Emergency Situations Ministry said 156 of the dead were children.

At the muddy cemetery in Beslan where gravediggers have opened up two new tracts in the past three days, relatives opened the tiny coffin of 8-year-old Vasily Reshetnyak, touched his forehead and kissed him goodbye. A favorite toy - a red car - was placed alongside his body.

Associated Press correspondent Burt Herman in Beslan contributed to this story.

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