The first funerals for the victims of the Russian school siege will be held today as a shaken President Vladimir Putin vowed an “all-out war” against terrorism.
The death toll from the bloody three-day siege in the North Ossetian town of Beslan has reached more than 350.
Hours after emergency workers completed the horrifying task of clearing bodies of children and adults from the devastated ruins, Mr Putin admitted his nation had been unprepared for the threat from militants.
“We showed weakness, and weak people are beaten,” he said in an address on national television.
He vowed to provide an adequate military response and confirmed that he would authorise more funding for security forces and border control.
Mr Putin said: “What happened was a terrorist act that was inhuman and unprecedented in its cruelty.
“This is not just a challenge to the president, or to the parliament, but the whole of Russia. It is an attack on the whole country.”
He claimed that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the nation was weakened and unable to respond effectively, but said Russia would now look to develop new methods to combat militants.
“In general, we need to admit that we did not show an understanding of the complexities and dangers of the processes occurring in our own country and in the world,” Mr Putin added in the sombre address.
“In any case, we couldn’t adequately react. We showed weakness, and weak people are beaten.”
Muslim separatists, including Arab mercenaries, are believed to have been behind the horrific siege.
The kidnappers had demanded a Russian withdrawal of troops from Chechnya in return for the safe release of the hostages.
Relatives of the deceased were allowed to enter the burned out shell that was one the gymnasium of School No. 1, where more than 1,000 hostages were held during the 62-hour ordeal.
Others scoured lists of names to see if their loved ones had survived the chaos, when the stand-off turned into violence with militants setting off explosives in the school and commandos moving in to seize the building.
Regional Emergency Situations Minister Boris Dzgoyev said 323 people, including 156 children, were killed. More than 540 people were wounded – mostly children. Medical officials said 448 people, including 248 children, remained in hospital.
It was also confirmed that all 35 hostage takers had been killed, bringing the death toll to more than 350.
:: The European Union has urged Moscow to provide full details of a school hostage stand-off and the commando raid that ended it, saying such information sharing could prevent a repeat of mistakes.
Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, whose country holds the EU presidency, sought yesterday to end a spat with Moscow after his Russian counterpart criticised him for questioning Russia’s handling of the siege.
On Friday, Bot praised Russia for initially seeking a negotiated end to the crisis with the militants who seized the school. But he added it was “very difficult to judge from a distance whether the right decision was taken or not” by Russian forces to storm the school.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted as calling that “blasphemy.”