Beslan rebel committed terrorist act: Russian judge
By Oliver Bullough
MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian judge declared on Tuesday that
the only surviving member of a group responsible for the Beslan
school raid that killed 331 people had committed an act of
Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov will take several days to read his
summary of the trial before he formally convicts or acquits
Nurpashi Kulayev, although his comments already suggested a
guilty verdict was likely.
“The court has established the participation of the
defendant in murder and attempted murder, in conducting a
terrorist act, in taking part in a bandit group, in taking
hostages, in illegally storing and transporting weapons,”
Russian news agencies quoted the judge as saying.
Prosecutors have demanded the death penalty for the young
Chechen, born in 1980, for his part in seizing 1,300 hostages
– a raid that killed 331 people, more than half of them
children — with the aim of pressuring Russian troops to leave
Kulayev insists his innocence, saying he was forced to join
the raid. An official moratorium on capital punishment means a
death sentence should be commuted to one of life in jail.
Many survivors of the 2004 siege say Kulayev has been made
a scapegoat for officials who failed to prevent the rebel group
entering Beslan on September 1 — first day of the new school
year and a day of celebration for children and their families
– and bungled an attempt to free the hostages.
They have followed the case closely. The small courtroom in
the southern Russian town of Vladikavkaz was packed with women
in black clothes and headscarves, some holding pictures of
their murdered children.
“Formally, Russia has the death penalty, the judge has the
right to impose it. He could use this option, if he wants to
show how tough our laws are,” said Sergei Nikitin, director of
rights group Amnesty International’s Moscow office.
“But we have a moratorium, so it will not actually be
conducted by the court. Then again, we all know the stories
about what happens to imprisoned Chechen fighters who suddenly
“get ill” and die in prison.”
Witnesses to the security forces’ storming of the school
spoke of a failure of organization preventing hostages
receiving medical care. Emergency services ferrying the wounded
were trapped in traffic jams. Firemen lacked water. Heavy arms
were used on the building before all hostages were accounted
An official probe said negligence and incompetence had
contributed to the calamitous assault, which was sparked by two
unexplained explosions in the school.
Relatives have followed Kulayev’s trial closely, hoping it
will provide details they say were missing from the probes into
the unfolding of the tragedy.
“There is hope that he will still tell the truth, and
therefore we need him to live,” said Ella Kesayeva, head of
survivors’ pressure group the Voice of Beslan, when asked
whether she supported the death penalty for Kulayev.
“The prosecutor has not dug down to the truth, because they
have only one motive — to hide the facts of the security
services’ crimes … It is not only the terrorists who are to
blame in the Beslan tragedy, but also the Federal Security
Service,” she told Ekho Moskvy radio.