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Russia troops storm school as hostages break out

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Russian Troops Storm School as Hostages Break Out (Update1)

Sept. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Russian troops stormed a school in the country's south, after hostages started fleeing the building where armed terrorists had been holding as many as 1,500 people captive for two days in Beslan, North Ossetia.

More than 200 wounded were taken to hospitals, Interfax said, citing Lev Dzugayev, spokesman for North Ossetia's government. Russian broadcasters NTV and Rossiya showed children escaping and gunfire and explosions could be heard during the broadcasts.

Russian forces haven't taken the area fully under control and gunfire can be heard coming from near the gym where the hostages were held, Sky News reported from the scene. Interfax earlier reported that the area was almost under control.

``Most of the children who had been taken hostage are still alive,'' NTV television reported from the scene. ``There are very many wounded.''

Russian soldiers opened fire at terrorists who tried to flee among the hostages, state-owned Itar-Tass said. Tank fire was heard near a house where some of the terrorists were holed up after fleeing the school, Interfax reported. The building was surrounded by Russian forces, the news service said.

At least one hostage-taker was captured and five killed, Itar- Tass reported.

Attacks on Russia

The raid was the fourth terrorist incident in Russia in eight days. Two passenger planes crashes on Aug. 24 after explosions, killing 89 people and 10 died on Monday evening after an explosion near a Moscow subway station. Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday the incidents were ``attacks on Russia as a whole.''

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov canceled most of festivities scheduled for Sunday, the anniversary of the city's founding, because of the spate of terrorist attacks, Interfax reported.

As many as 1,500 people, mostly women and children, were taken captive in the school on Sept. 1, Zalina Dzandarova, a former hostage who was released yesterday, said earlier today.

NTV television reporter Ruslan Gusarov said authorities cordoned off the area, keeping television cameras several hundred meters (yards) away from the building housing the hostages.

Bombs Detonated

The terrorists let off bombs as Russian rescuers entered the school to take out the bodies of between 10 and 20 people killed earlier, Itar-Tass said. A group of 40 children broke out while the bodies were being removed and the terrorists opened fire indiscriminately, the news service said.

The hostage-takers responded by detonating a bomb, causing the school's roof to partly collapse, Itar-Tass said.

Russian forces blew a hole in the wall of the building where the hostages were being held to create an extra escape route for the captives, Itar-Tass reported, citing eye witnesses.

The Federal Security Service, the Interior Ministry and the Emergencies Ministry have repeatedly refusing to comment on the siege, referring all inquiries to authorities in Beslan.

The armed group of as many as 20 people had demanded the separation of Chechnya from Russia, North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov told Agence France Presse. Beslan is in North Ossetia, about 50 kilometers west of the Chechen capital, Grozny.

There were no ``clear demands,'' according to Dzugayev.


Russia has about 80,000 soldiers in Chechnya. The republic on Sunday elected Alu Alkhanov president in a vote organized by the pro-Putin government to replace Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in May. Rebels called the elections illegitimate.

Most of the hostages released yesterday ``are in a shock,'' North Ossetia spokesman Murat Biazrov said.

Russian troops invaded Chechnya in August 1999 to suppress a separatist rebellion. Since then, Putin has refused any compromise, saying the campaign in Chechnya is part of the international war on terrorism. North Ossetia borders Chechnya.

The school is normally attended by 895 students and 59 teachers, Interfax quoted spokesman Vladimir Yakovlev as saying.

The group seized its hostages during a ceremony to begin the Russian school year. Festivities are usually held in schools across Russia on Sept. 1, with children and their parents wearing their best clothes and carrying flowers for teachers.

The government has said seven people were killed and as many as 12 injured when the armed group wearing explosive belts took over the school on Wednesday.

Suicide Bombers

Two female suicide bombers detonated themselves on Sept. 1, killing as many as 20 hostages, Dzandarova said, adding that the hostages that she was held with didn't witness the incident. She said the gunmen ``told us they did this.''

Chechnya also borders the Russian republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan, the region of Stavropol and the country of Georgia.

Leonid Roshal, director of the Catastrophe Medical Center, talked to the terrorists on at least two occasions and said they had refused to accept food, water and medicine deliveries. Roshal negotiated with Chechen rebels when they took more than 800 hostages at a Moscow theater in October 2002, demanding an end to Russia's war in Chechnya.

At least 129 hostages died then in Russia's worst terrorist attack, when special forces stormed the Moscow theater, ending a three-day standoff and killing all 41 hostage-takers. Most of the dead hostages were killed by an anesthetic gas pumped into the building to subdue the Chechen rebels, who had threatened to blow up the theater if attacked.

The republic's separatist movement fell under the influence of Muslim fundamentalists amid Russian brutality toward civilians in a war from 1994 to 1996, when Arab mercenaries joined the conflict. Russians and Chechens have been criticized by groups such as Amnesty International for mistreating civilians.

Last Updated: September 3, 2004 07:41 EDT

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