Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 23

The trial of Nur-Pashi Kulaev, the sole participant in last September’s Beslan terrorist act to be captured and put on trial, has yielded fresh testimony that raises questions about the actions of the local and federal authorities. Answering questions from victims of the incident, Kulaev told North Ossetia’s Supreme Court that the hostage-takers at Beslan’s school No. 1 were in contact with “people from the government” from the first half of the day on September 1 – i.e., immediately after they seized the school – and had put forward demands. The authorities, however, were apparently in no hurry to communicate with the hostage takers. Kavkazky Uzel reported on June 14 that Regina Kusraeva, who was in the school with two of her children, told the court: “While we were sitting in the assembly hall, the terrorists tried to contact the government of the republic [and] the country. The terrorists summoned the director of the school Lidia [Tsalieva], who after a few minutes came back to us and said that no one needs us, no one is picking up the phone – neither in Putin’s office or from our [North Ossetian] government.”

According to Kavkazky Uzel, practically all of the living victims of the terrorist attack have reached the conclusion that it was the “the federals” who “destroyed” the children who died in the incident – over half of the 330 people killed. The website quoted the head of the investigative department of the Interior Ministry branch in North Ossetia’s Pravoberezhny district, Elbrus Nogaev, as saying that what happened on September 3 “was not a freeing of hostages,” but rather a “military operation.”

Regina Kusraeva told the court that on the first day of the hostage seizure, one of the hostage takers told the hostages: “Judging by past experience, we suspect that there will be an assault. If the lights go out, everybody lay on the floor, but don’t run; they’ll kill you.” Kusraeva said the terrorists treated the hostages “reasonably” on the first day of the incident, giving them food and allowing them to line up for water. “But on the second day, they told us that they were declaring together with us a dry hunger strike, inasmuch as their demands were not being met,” she said. “Then on the third day the assault began. I sat with the children under the window in the assembly hall. There was such heavy [weapons’] fire that I was afraid that it would pierce the walls. Why did that happen? Then one of the terrorists told me: ‘Get of here; the roof is on fire, you can die.’ We ran to the cafeteria; the situation was the same there, and there the militants told us to run out: ‘Now this part of the building will be fired on; get out of here.’ Then they forced the hostages to stand on the windowsills, to tear down the drapery and to wave it, to shout [at them] not to shoot. I myself saw how they were shooting from the streets. I sat with the children on the floor, but in one moment I looked and saw a mountain of corpses on the windowsills. Then, an APC [armored personnel carrier] pulled up, three [soldiers] jumped out and point blank began to shoot those hostages who continued to stand on the windowsills. At that moment I was absolutely not scared of the militants; they were not firing at us. The only thing I feared was that they were going to kill them [the terrorists] and then come in the school and shoot all of us.”

Susanna Dudieva, the head of the Mothers of Beslan committee who lost her son in the assault on the school on September 3, questioned Kulaev and expressed fear that he might not survive until the end of the investigation. Kulaev indicted that he was being regularly beaten. Fatima Kelekhsaeva, a teacher who lost a daughter in the school, told the court: “I sent my daughter to a state educational facility and am presenting all my claims to the state. And we ask that Kulaev be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

On June 2, Kulaev testified that he had heard the leader of the terrorists who seized Beslan’s school No. 1, known as the “Colonel,” discuss a plan that involved placing trucks rigged with explosives near police and security headquarters in Grozny and the cities of Vladikavkaz and Nazran in North Ossetia and Ingushetia, respectively, MosNews reported. During the June 2 court session, some of the relatives of the victims called for criminal charges to be filed against republican and federal officials and for the passage of a law that would allow relatives of the Beslan terrorists to be punished, newsru.com reported.