I hope they find all these @ssholes and string them up by their f*ing teeth. This is the first news story I've read in a long time that almost made me cry. Truly a tragedy.
Russians Storm School; 150 May Be Dead
By MIKE ECKEL, Associated Press Writer
BESLAN, Russia - Commandos stormed a school Friday in southern Russia and battled separatist rebels holding 1,200 hostages, as crying children, some naked and covered in blood, fled through explosions and gunfire. An official said the death toll could be significantly higher than 150.
Hours after the midday assault, three of the separatist rebels were reportedly still blockaded in a school basement, trading fire with security forces. A Federal Security Service official said militants were still holding hostages — children among them.
The school was largely secured late Friday afternoon, but a large explosion erupted from inside toward nightfall, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. A member of an elite security unit died saving two young girls, the agency reported.
Valery Andreyev, the top Federal Security Service official in the region, said 20 militants were killed, including 10 Arabs. The Arab presence among the attackers would support President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites)'s contention that al-Qaida terrorists were involved in the Chechen conflict, where Muslim fighters have been fighting Russian forces in a brutal a war of independence for most of the past decade.
A hostage who escaped told Associated Press Television News that the militants numbered 28, including women wearing camouflage uniforms. The hostage, who identified himself only as Teimuraz, said the militants began wiring the school with explosives as soon as they took control.
The chaotic climax to the hostage standoff began when explosions collapsed part of the school roof and gunfire erupted from inside the building where the militants, some with explosives strapped to their bodies, stormed the school Wednesday morning.
The militants — demanding independence for nearby Chechnya (news - web sites) — kept the hostages, mostly women and children, in the sweltering gymnasium, refusing to let in food or 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.
After the hostage-takers fled, more than 100 bodies were found in the gymnasium, some apparently killed when part of the school's roof collapsed in the explosion that prompted the Russian security forces to move in.
A Putin aide said the total death toll could be significantly more than 150 people. An estimated 520 people were wounded, health officials said. The regional health minister earlier reported that at least 218 children were wounded.
Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Putin's top aide on Chechnya, said security forces did not plan to storm the building, but were prompted to move when the hostage-takers set off explosions early Friday afternoon. Witnesses said the militants opened fire on fleeing hostages and then began to escape themselves.
Gunfire rang out for hours as security forces chased hostage-takers, who split into small groups as they fled. Interfax and the ITAR-Tass news agency reported the three militants holed up in the basement may include the head of the group. Another group took refuge in a nearby house where tanks moved in.
Huge columns of smoke rose from the school. Windows were shattered, part of roof was gone and another part was charred. Commandos, residents and journalists scurried around the building and soldiers climbed inside through a lower floor window, all the glass missing.
People ran through the streets, and the wounded were carried off on stretchers. An Associated Press reporter saw ambulances speeding by, the windows streaked with blood. Four armed men in civilian clothes ran by, shouting, "A militant ran this way."
Soldiers and men in civilian clothes carried children — some naked, some clad only in underpants, some covered in blood — to a temporary hospital set up behind an armored personnel carrier. One child had a bandage on her head, others had bandaged limbs. Some women, newly freed from the school, fainted.
The children drank eagerly from bottles of water given to them once they reached safety. Many of the children were naked or only partly clothed because of the stifling heat in the gymnasium.
"I am helping you," a man dressed in camouflage told a crying girl. Women gathered around, trying to soothe her, saying "It's all right. It's all right."
A cameraman for the British network ITN reported seeing around 100 bodies in the gym. The correspondent for Russia's Interfax news agency reported that there were dozens of bodies in the school, including about 100 in the gym, and that some were killed when the building's roof collapsed from an explosion before the main assault began.
Sixty of the bodies in the gymnasium have been identified, said Andreyev, the chief of the Federal Security Service in North Ossetia said.
A nurse spread clean sheets on stretchers, and told AP that Russian officials expected "very many" wounded.
The White House branded the hostage-taking "barbaric" and "despicable" and said responsibility for dozens of lost lives rests with the terrorists. "The United States stands side-by-side with Russia in our global fight against terrorism," spokesman Scott McClellan said.
President Bush (news - web sites) was briefed on developments in Russia Friday morning before a re-election rally in Pennsylvania. He did not talk about the Russian terrorism during his speech.
The chaos erupted on the third day of the hostage standoff in Beslan, a town of 30,000 in North Ossetia, a republic near the wartorn region of Chechnya. North Ossetia's president, Alexander Dzasokhov, said Friday the militants had demanded independence for Chechnya — the first official word connecting the hostage-taking to the conflict that has fueled Russia's worst terror attacks.
The violence began after militants had agreed to let Russia retrieve the bodies of people killed early in the raid. Explosions went off as the emergency personnel went to get the bodies at around 1 p.m., collapsing part of the roof of the building, and hostages took the noise as a signal to flee, officials said.
Militants opened fire on fleeing hostages and security forces returned fire. Once the hostage-takers sought to escape, Russian officials apparently made the decision to storm the building.
The militants had reportedly threatened to blow up the building if authorities tried to storm it, but all indications suggested the explosions began before the assault. Russian officials repeatedly said they were not planning to invade and had earlier won the release of 26 hostages through negotiations.
The hostage-takers' identities were 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.
Insurgents fought an earlier war for Chechen independence, a conflict that ended in stalemate. In the years since, the rebels and their sympathizers have increasingly taken to assaults and attacks outside the tiny republic.
Negotiators said the hostage-takers had repeatedly refused offers of food and water throughout the standoff.
"They are very cruel people, we are facing a ruthless enemy," said Leonid Roshal, a pediatrician involved in the negotiations. "I talked with them many times on my cell phone, but every time I ask to give food, water and medicine to the hostages they refuse my request."
The school seizure came a day after a suspected Chechen suicide bomber blew herself up outside a Moscow subway station, killing nine people, and just over a week after 90 people died in two plane crashes that are suspected to have been blown up by bombers also linked to Chechnya.
In a 2002 theater raid in Moscow, Chechen rebels took about 800 hostages during a performance, a standoff that ended after a knockout gas was pumped into the building, debilitating the captors but causing almost all of the 129 hostage deaths.
On Thursday, the militants had freed about 26 hostages, all women and children