09/04/2004, 00.00
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Putin visits Beslan: "There were no plans to storm the school"

More than 300 die; three terrorists captured.

Beslan (AsiaNews/Agencies) – "All Russia grieves with you," Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a meeting with local officials in Beslan. "Even alongside the cruellest attacks of the past, this terrorist act occupies a special place because it was aimed at children," he added. Thus, after 53 hours, the hostage siege by Chechen terrorists holding over a thousand children and adults ended in a bloodbath. The Russian President, who ordered North Ossetia's borders closed, said "there were no plans to storm the school."

Valery Andreyev, head of the Ossetian branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB), said: "We had not planned any kind of armed action. We offered the continuation of the ongoing talks to peacefully release the hostages."

Four civil protection medical officials went inside the school to remove the bodies of dead hostages as agreed by both captors and authorities. However, when two blasts ripped through part of the gymnasium causing its roof to collapse, some adults and children took advantage fled but were shot at by the terrorists. Only then, "to preserve the lives of the hostages was fire opened in reply on the bandits," Andreyev said. At that point, eyewitnesses added, armed local residents, who had been waiting around the school, joined the fray.

According to Andreyev, more than 30 terrorists were involved in seizing the school in Beslan; three were captured and 27 killed. Putin's adviser on Chechnya, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, said there were nine "Arab mercenaries" among the terrorists

According to Ossetian health officials the death toll now stands at 321 with most victims killed by the explosions. They warn that it may yet rise. Among the dead there were two emergency workers. Another three were wounded. Interfax news agency reported that 10 members of the security forces were also killed.

During this morning's visit to Beslan Putin went to the town's hospital. Of the 556 people admitted there, 332 are children suffering from serious injuries or in deep shock.  Ivan Sakhno, first deputy director of the Zashchita (Protection) Medical Centre for Catastrophes, said that the most seriously injured children, those suffering from gunshot wounds, were taken to Moscow's City Hospital No 13 and 9.

Survivors are starting to tell their harrowing tales. Alla Gadiejeva, 24, who was in the school with her mother and son, said their captors were totally indifferent to their suffering. "When we asked for water," she said, "they laughed at us."

"I can't eat any more," said another girl who survived the ordeal, "but I am used to it." Recounting her daughter's tale, the mother said: "She told me about the conditions in which they were kept: stacked together in the gym without food and water, windows closed and a bomb covered by Ossetia's flag." (MA)

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See also
Orthodox bishop proposes building church in place of Beslan school
Beslan mothers end occupation of Russian Supreme Court
The Caucasus, a religious powder keg after Beslan
Beslan mothers 'believe' in Putin's promises
Orthodox and Catholics mourn together those who died in Beslan


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