/ 3 September 2004

Chaotic end to school siege

All of the Russian school where hundreds had been held hostage since Wednesday is now under control of Russian special forces, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday, citing the local crisis cell.

Commandos stormed the school and established control of the building, Russian news agencies reported.

The storming followed a series of heavy explosions, followed by heavy gunfire from both sides. Helicopters circled the area.

Interfax said the school’s roof had collapsed — possibly from the explosives some militants had strapped to their bodies. The militants had reportedly threatened to blow up the building if authorities tried to storm it.

Several hundred hostages apparently remained in the building as the firing raged. Several of the hostage-takers were seen running from the school, firing indiscriminately in desperation, Russian reports said.

Commandos then stormed in and the firing subsided after about 45 minutes, news reports said, possibly indicating that the crisis had come to a violent end.

According to Reuters, five of the armed hostage-takers were killed.

Russian special forces were looking for 13 abductors who fled from the scene, Itar-Tass reported.

A series of explosions and gunfire went off around a house where several hostage-takers were said to be trying to hide, an AFP correspondent reported. The windows of the house were blown out and civilians fled the building by jumping out of the windows, as violent explosions resounded around.

According to AP, 250 people were wounded in the school — 180 of them children.

At least 10 people, children and adults, have been taken out dead on stretchers from the school, an AFP correspondent reported.

At least six children, all very badly wounded and some with their limbs ripped off and their backs torn open, were also evacuated by civilians and members of the Russian Emergency Ministry.

Women escaping the building were seen fainting and others, some covered in blood, were carried away on stretchers.

The majority of the children who were in the school are still alive, Interfax reported, citing the regional interior ministry.

“Some children who fled the school were hurt and some rebels opened fire on them. Those who stayed in the school in general were not harmed,” a source said.

Sky News showed images of children and adults being rushed towards medics. Most of the children were only clad in their underwear, reportedly because of the stifling heat in the gymnasium where they had been held.

Special forces had been forced to act on Friday in view of developments in the Russian hostage crisis, Interfax said.

Earlier on Friday, Russian officials negotiating with the militants holding the hostages obtained an agreement allowing them to take away several corpses dumped outside the building. — AFP