RUSSIA. BESLAN REBEL COMMITTED TERRORISM, JUDGE
May 16, 2006: a Russian judge said the only surviving member of the group that seized a school and 1,300 hostages in the town of Beslan in 2004 had committed an act of terrorism, as he began reading his verdict in the trial. Prosecutors have requested the death penalty for Chechen Nurpashi Kulayev, born in 1980, although an official moratorium on capital punishment would lead to such a sentence being changed to one of life imprisonment.
"The court has established the participation of the defendant in murder and attempted murder, in conducting a terrorist act, in taking part in a bandit group, in taking hostages, in illegally storing and transporting weapons," the judge was quoted as saying.
The court is yet to pronounce whether it will formally find the young Chechen, who says he was made to take part in the raid against his will, guilty. The summing up will take several days.
Many survivors of the siege say Kulayev has been made a scapegoat for officials who failed to prevent the rebel group driving to Beslan on September 1, the first day of the new school year and a day of celebration for children and their families.
Witnesses to the storm operation said a failure of organization prevented injured hostages receiving medical care, with traffic jams full of bleeding children building up, while firemen lacked water and heavy weaponry was used despite not all hostages being accounted for.
"Formally, Russia has the death penalty, the judge has the right to impose it. He could use this option, if he wants to show how tough our laws are," said Sergei Nikitin, director of rights group Amnesty International's Moscow office. "But we have a moratorium, so it will not actually be conducted by the court. Then again, we all know the stories about what happens to imprisoned Chechen fighters who suddenly "get ill" and die in prison." (Sources: Reuters, 16/05/2006)