Russia mourns victims of school massacre

Two days of national mourning in Russia begin today to commemorate more than 350 children and adults who died in the bloody school siege.

Two days of national mourning in Russia begin today to commemorate more than 350 children and adults who died in the bloody school siege.

More funeral services will also be held for the victims of the stand-off in the North Ossetian town of Beslan

With several hundred of the injured and dead yet to be identified, anxious residents clutched photos of relatives who they have yet to find since hostages streamed out of buildings amid gunfire and explosions as troops stormed the site on Friday.

The region’s top police officer has offered his resignation as questions continued to be asked about how the siege was brought to a chaotic end and town elders have called for the whole regional government to step down.

Russia’s deputy prosecutor-general was later reported to have confirmed one man had been charged with “personal participation” in the siege.

Authorities in the country announced that three suspects, including one woman, had been arrested in connection with the deaths.

The deputy prosecutor, Sergei Fridinsky, said the man charged was part of the hostage-taking gang.

He was seen on Russian TV being led into a cell at gunpoint by two masked men in military uniforms.

The suspect, who was not named, was lurching forward with his hands handcuffed behind his back.

He shouted at a TV cameraman in Russian: “By Allah, I have not shot. By Allah, I have not killed.”

The man, who was asked by a watching reporter if he had sympathy for the child hostages, added: “Yes, I was sorry for them, I myself have children.”

Russian officials have suggested that up to 10 of the hostage takers were Arabs.

Yesterday dozens of men dug graves in a large field next to Beslan cemetery, many turning up the earth to bury their own children or relatives.

Plots were marked out with wooden stakes and coffin lids stood stacked up in rows outside the entrances to apartment buildings.

The regional health ministry admitted 180 people are still unaccounted for, believed to be unconscious in hospital or too traumatised to come forward.

The health ministry said that only 207 of the dead had been formally identified.

More than 700 people needed medical help after the crisis and 386 people remain in hospital, including 184 children.

Russian Deputy Prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky said he believed 32 terrorists had been involved and that two remained alive.

They seized control of the school on the first day of the new academic year on Wednesday, forcing over 1,000 children and adults into the gymnasium, which was wired with explosives – including bombs hanging from basketball hoops.

As heat overwhelmed many of the hostages, their requests for food or water were refused.

Many people were killed when a wave of explosions were triggered by the militants, possibly by accident, as emergency workers entered the school courtyard to collect corpses of those killed in the initial raid.

The blasts tore through the gymnasium roof and debris rained down on hostages. As survivors attempted to escape, the militants opened fire.

:: Australian police who built up expertise in victim identification and grief counselling could head to Russia this week to help with the probe into the deadly Beslan school siege, the nation’s top police officer said today.

Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty said his officers could be in Russia by the week’s end if authorities there say they are needed.

“I spoke with the government yesterday and we offered support in disaster victim identification as well as the family liaison network, which proved to be the real backbone of the work we did after the Bali bombings,” Keelty said in the eastern city of Brisbane.

“It’s an area of expertise that we are well developed on now and given the nature of the tragedy in Beslan it’s clear that there will be a long term requirement for counselling skills and managing and assisting the families to get over what is one of the world’s biggest tragedies.”

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