Computer Crime Research Center


Attackers seize Russian school

Date: September 02, 2004
Source: THE STAR
By: Michael Mainville

BESLAN, Russia–Attackers wearing suicide-bomb belts stormed an elementary school, seizing hundreds of hostages, many of them children, on the first day back to school.

Early today, officials in North Ossetia, a southern province near unruly Chechnya, were trying to build contacts with the 17 attackers who herded students, parents and teachers into the school gym in the city of Beslan after bursting into a ceremony marking the start of a school year.

One mother was shown on television saying: "How long can this madness in the country continue?" Another begged: "My poor child, let him go. Take me instead.''

A man who answered the telephone at the school and identified himself as a spokesman for the fighters said they wanted talks with the leaders of North Ossetia and neighbouring Ingushetia. "Wipe your sniffles," the man said, speaking crudely in Russian with a Chechen accent, when asked what they hoped to discuss with the officials. He then hung up.

Casualty reports varied widely. At least two people were confirmed killed, including a school parent, but an official in the command operation said on condition of anonymity early today that 16 people were killed – 12 inside the school, two who died in a hospital and two others whose bodies still lay outside and could not be removed because of gunfire. The official said 13 were wounded.

Actual numbers of hostages were hard to pin down. Federal Security Service chief for North Ossetia, Valery Andreyev said there might be 120 to 300 captives, while an official at the Emergency Situations Ministry branch for southern Russia said authorities believed the number was 336.

Earlier, officials had said up to 400 people, including 200 children, were taken captive.

The Middle School No. 1 covers grades 1-11, but an official said that most of the children taken hostage were under 14.

"The main task is to free the children alive – and everybody located there, but the most important thing is the children," Andreyev said.

He said the hostage-takers had refused offers of food and water.

At least 12 children and one adult managed to escape after hiding in the building's boiler room during the raid, said Ruslan Ayamov, of North Ossetia's Interior Ministry. Media reports suggested that as many as 50 other children fled in the chaos as the attackers were raiding the school.

The U.N. Security Council last night condemned the attack "in the strongest terms." At a special meeting requested by Moscow, the 15-member council demanded "the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages of the terrorist attack.

"Any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, whenever and by whomsoever committed," the council said.

Yesterday's hostage-taking came less than 24 hours after a suicide bombing in Moscow blamed on Chechen rebels killed nine victims, and just over a week after near-simultaneous explosions caused two Russian planes to crash, killing all 90 people on board.

The school assault, which according to some accounts included women trained as suicide bombers, bore the signs of a Chechen rebel operation. But it was unclear who the attackers were, and Chechen separatist leaders denied any links.

Officials said contacts had been opened, but gave no details.

Attackers warned they would blow up the school if police tried to storm it and forced children to stand at the windows, said Alexei Polyansky, a police spokesman for southern Russia.

The hostage-taking was condemned by UNICEF, the U.N. children's fund. "Children must never be used for political purposes, and schools must never be degraded to places of violence," said Carol Bellamy, the agency's director.

Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew, on a one-day visit to Moscow, delivered Canada's sympathies and solidarity with the Russian people.

"I have expressed the condolences of Canadians to the Russian government over the terrorist attacks of the past few days and our deep concern over the continuing hostage crisis in North Ossetia," Pettigrew said after meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

More than 1,000 people, including many distraught parents, crowded outside police cordons last night demanding information and accusing the government of failing to protect their children.

Sporadic gunfire could be heard coming from the direction of the school early today. About 100 metres from the school, a group of Russian special forces soldiers sat in a parked jeep.

One of the soldiers, who gave his name only as Oleg, said his unit had abandoned a position closer to the school after coming under sniper fire late last night. He said snipers were shooting at anyone who approached the building.

A 35-year-old man who tried to get close was shot dead late last night, Oleg said. He said stray dogs were picking at the body. "We're trying to get permission to shoot at the dogs, but they won't let us," said Oleg, dressed in black fatigues with a Kalashnikov strung over his shoulder.

He said that earlier in the day his unit had seen seven bodies thrown out of a window at the school, including a number of children.

A few hundred residents of Beslan, a city of about 36,000, gathered in a local cultural centre to comfort each other and obtain periodic information from officials.

"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," teenage witness Zarubek Tsumartov said on Russian television.

Marina Tsegeraeva, 42, whose mother, brother, sister-in-law and 6-year-old nephew were taken hostage, worried that the siege would end in bloodshed.

"There will be suffering. They will never negotiate with the terrorists," she said.

Garik Brikhov, 34, whose 28-year-old wife Ludmila and 9-year-old daughter Tamara were trapped inside the school, said the hostage-takers were "animals" but called on Russian authorities to give in to their demands.

"What's most important is that they save these people," he said.

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

The hostage takers demanded the release of fighters detained over a series of attacks on police facilities in neighbouring Ingushetia in June, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported, citing regional officials. Those well-coordinated raids killed more than 90 people.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said yesterday the recent attacks amounted to a declaration of war.

"In essence, war has been declared on us, where the enemy is unseen and there is no front," he said.

Russia has fought two brutal campaigns to suppress a separatist uprising in the mainly Muslim republic of Chechnya. The most recent violence appears to be timed around last Sunday's presidential elections, in which the Kremlin-backed candidate, Alu Alkhanov, won an overwhelming victory.

The previous Chechen president, Akhmad Kadyrov, was killed in a bomb attack in the Chechen capital Grozny in May.

The attackers demanded talks with regional officials and pediatrician Leonid Roshal, who aided hostages during the seizure of a Moscow theatre in 2002, news reports said. At least 129 hostages died in that incident, most from effects of a knockout gas pumped into the building, and 41 attackers were reported killed.

This appears to be the second time Chechen rebels have seized hostages in southern Russia. In 1995, rebels led by extremist separatist leader Shamil Basayev seized a hospital in the southern Russian city of Budyonnovsk, taking some 2,000 people hostage. The six-day standoff ended with a fierce Russian police assault. Some 100 people died in the incident.

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2005-01-13 18:18:12 - My thought and prayers go out to everybody... Cassandra
2004-09-04 00:35:39 - My heart goes out to those that lost their... American
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