Russia siege toll tops 350
Putin admits weakness, denounces 'attack on our country'
Saturday, September 4, 2004 Posted: 12:42 PM EDT (1642 GMT)
(CNN) -- The death toll in the Russian hostage crisis has climbed
beyond 350 as President Vladimir Putin denounced the massacre as "an
attack on our country."
In a nationally televised speech
Saturday, Putin said the fall of the Soviet Union had left the country
unable to react to attacks, and he urged Russians to join together to
"We must create a much more effective system of
security," he said. "We couldn't adequately react. ... We showed
weakness, and weak people are beaten." (Full story).
Ossetia government spokesman Lev Dzugayev told CNN that 323 hostages,
including 156 children, died in the siege in the southern town of
In addition, 26 hostage-takers -- including 10 people
from Arab countries -- and at least 10 Russian special forces were
killed. The two-day standoff ended Friday after Russian forces stormed
the school amid explosions and intense gunfire.
More than 700 people were wounded, officials said.
said Saturday evening that 448 people were still in hospitals in the
region, including 248 children. Among the total hospitalized, 69 were
in serious condition.
Dzugayev said most of those who died were
killed when a bomb exploded in the school gymnasium where hostages were
being held, collapsing the roof and starting a fire.
Of those who died from gunshot wounds, most were shot in the back as they fled the building, he said.
Deputy Prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky acknowledged that more than 1,000
people had been held hostage during the ordeal. Earlier, officials had
placed the number of hostages at a few hundred.
Putin ordered the
borders closed in the North Ossetia region where the siege took place
as security forces searched for accomplices in the massacre.
are looking at the possibility that the hostage-takers may have brought
their weapons and explosives into the school well before the siege.
Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed regional security officer as
saying the weapons had been hidden under the floor during summer
An escaped hostage said she recognized some of the terrorists as having done construction work, Echo Moscow Radio reported.
traveled to the traumatized region near Chechnya early Saturday,
visiting wounded in the hospital and meeting local officials.
"Russia is grieving with the people of North Ossetia," he said in Beslan. "Nobody wanted to use force."
alongside the most cruel attacks of the past, this terrorist act
occupies a special place because it was aimed at children," news
agencies quoted him as saying.
"One of the tasks pursued by the terrorists was to stoke ethnic hatred, to blow up the whole of our North Caucasus.
"Anyone who feels sympathetic towards such provocations will be viewed as accomplices of terrorists and terrorism," he said.
least 79 bodies have been identified, the Emergency Situations Ministry
said. Many of the bodies were burned beyond recognition and will
require DNA testing for identification, which could take several days.
One witness told a reporter that a hostage-taker had set off a suicide bomb in a gymnasium full of children.
quoted a defense official as saying that "the terrorists planted a lot
of mines and booby-traps filled with metal bolts in the gym."
Andreyev, head of the local branch of the FSB intelligence service,
said 10 of the hostage-takers killed were from Arab countries.
in the past have been affiliated with the al Qaeda terror network, and
an Arab connection further suggests a link between the Chechen rebel
movement and international terrorists. Chechen rebels have been
fighting Russian troops for a decade.
Near the scene, the
bodies of dead children were placed on stretchers. One woman leaned
down and caressed the body of a young boy. Other women stood shocked,
holding their hands to their mouths and weeping.
other images of the siege and its aftermath, aired on television and
posted on the Internet, horrified people around the world and brought
ringing outcries by international leaders. (Full story)
hostage incident began Wednesday when an armed gang of terrorists took
children, parents and teachers hostage on the first day of school in
Friday's storming operation was not planned, said a local
official from Russia's FSB intelligence service, who told Russian media
the troops had been ready for a long siege.
The forces stormed
the building around midday after Russian officials, under a cease-fire
agreement with militants, tried to collect bodies lying outside the
There was an explosion, hostages fled, and
hostage-takers opened fire on the children and rescue workers. One of
the workers was killed and another was wounded. Russian troops then
opened fire at the rebels, and the battle began.
hours later the scene remained in chaos, with pockets of resistance
remaining and machine-gun fire heard on the scene and troops going
room-by-room as the wounded were being taken out of the building.
who survived said they were denied food and water and had to take off
their clothes because of the heat. Some boys said they had to drink
their own urine because they lacked liquids.
followed a bloody week in Russia. A female suicide bomber killed nine
people outside a Moscow subway station Tuesday. Two suspected Chechen
female suicide bombers downed two airliners on August 24, killing all
89 people aboard the planes.
Russian officials have said the new
wave of attacks is an attempt at revenge for last weekend's elections
in Chechnya in which a Kremlin-backed candidate won the presidency.
Russian Foreign Ministry, in a statement posted on its Web site,
thanked other nations for their support, condemned the incident and
said a "moment of truth" had come in the fight against international
"We have witnessed a cruel tragedy, a new,
unprecedented form of boundless terrorist lawlessness where bandits
victimized innocent women, children, and even completely defenseless
infants," the statement said.
"The losses are heavy and
irretrievable. Bandits were shooting hostages point-blank and were
blowing up everyone indiscriminately.
"One needs to draw a lesson
from this monstrous crime. It confirms yet again that terrorists are a
bunch of beasts for whom nothing is sacred. They challenge the very
foundations of civilization to achieve their criminal goals. Terrorism
is absolutely incompatible with principles of morality and humanity,"
the statement said.
Correspondents Matthew Chance, Ryan Chilcote and Jill Dougherty contributed to this report