Court Begins Reading Verdict in Beslan Raid

The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 16, 2006; 9:01 PM

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia -- The judge reading the verdict of the sole surviving alleged attacker in the Beslan school siege said Tuesday the defendant had taken part in murder and terrorism _ pointing toward a guilty decision in the attack that shocked the country.

But that prospect was little comfort to relatives of the 331 victims, who say authorities are covering up key information about what happened in the September 2004 siege, when some 30 attackers seized the school and demanded that Russian forces end their fight against separatist rebels in nearby Chechnya.

"We still don't know how many people were killed at the hands of the terrorists and how many by the Russian special forces," Valiko Margiyev, whose 12-year-old daughter was among the dead, said at a cemetery that he and other relatives visited after the court adjourned following the first day of the verdict reading.

Most of the victims _ more than half of them children _ died in a hail of gunfire and explosions that erupted after one of the bombs the attackers rigged at the school went off, and security forces rushed to free hostages. That was on the third day of the siege. Among the dead were 31 alleged militants.

"The authorities are trying to make (defendant Nur-Pashi) Kulayev the scapegoat," Margiyev said, echoing the concern of many that the investigation of the siege will come to a halt once the verdict is pronounced.

Under the Russian court system, a verdict is an extensive summation of evidence. The final determination is not expected before the end of the week.

Prosecutors have called for the death penalty for Kulayev, who has admitted to participating in the attack but denied killing anybody.

It was unclear, however, whether Kulayev could be executed, since Russia imposed a moratorium on the death penalty when it joined the Council of Europe eight years ago.

"I demand that the scoundrel be shot. He has stolen my future," said Rita Sedakova, 47, whose only daughter was killed in the ordeal. Before the trial began, she and other relatives of victims had gathered outside the courthouse in Vladikavkaz, the capital of the North Ossetia region.

Ella Kesayeva, of the Voice of Beslan activist group, said however that executing Kulayev would prevent him from revealing more information.

The attack by heavily armed militants stunned Russia and prompted President Vladimir Putin to push through sweeping political changes that many critics say have dealt democracy a major setback.

Subsequent investigations exposed deep corruption, particularly among regional law enforcement officials, and showed how turbulent Russia's North Caucasus region remains.

Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov said Tuesday the court had established that Kulayev participated in murder, terrorism, the seizure of hostages and other alleged criminal activities he was tried for.

While authorities repeatedly have said there were 32 attackers, the judge said only that the court had established there were 19 attackers who had been identified, including Kulayev, and an unspecified number of others. He said the attackers seized 1,127 hostages.

© 2006 The Associated Press