Skip to comments.Russia Hostage Death Toll Said to Top 200
Posted on 09/03/2004 1:54:33 PM PDT by Nachum
BESLAN, Russia (AP) - 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.
I have one word of advice for the Chechens. "Run"
I grieve for the families.
Wonder how long before the entire civilized world is fed up with the muslims.
A point to ponder, similar to the one made by the folks who jumped the 9/11 hijackers. There isn't any real point in passivity and obedience in the face of this sort of animal; you're going to die anyway so you might just as well take one of the bastards with you.
Anyone want to claim Islam is a legitmate religion?
A billion people can be wrong.
When not if, it happens here, even on a smaller scale - many mosques will be destroyed within 24 hours.
"I have one word of advice for the Chechens. "Run""
Heh. How about "Duck!", "Buh-bye."
depends on what the meaning of "is" is.
the terrorist got exactly what they wanted..a massacre of children/hostages
I C B M
"muslim" appears only once in the entire article accoridng to my ctrl-f. i'm frankly surprised it showed up at all... even though it was nearly at the end of the article...
Gee, what a surprise. You mean they weren't all just Chechen "freedom fighters?"
Those kids were essentially dead the moment they were taken captive.
Perhaps, when it starts happening in schools in France and Germany?
I think the Russians are going to come in out of the cold over this. They didn't support us and now they are having their 9-11 with the two airliners and now this...women and children? I think the Russians are now fed up and awake... But, that is only my opinion.
I hope Bush is reelected because if Kerry is in office, this kind of thing could start happening right here in our country. Al Qaeda has to have taken a lesson from the success (or effectiveness) of this horrible action.
And this article is an exception.
Chechen rebels or terrorists, or part of the Russian war with Chechnya. That is how it is described.