The final chapter in the trial of the sole surviving alleged attacker in the Beslan school hostage seizure opened today, as a judge began reading the verdict and said the court had established the defendant took part in murder, terrorism and other crimes.
The statement was not a formal verdict, but strongly suggested Nur-Pashi Kulayev would be found guilty in the September 2004 attack on School No.1 in Beslan, which led to the deaths of 331 victims, more than half of them children, as well as 31 alleged militants.
Most of the victims died in a hail of gunfire and explosions that erupted after one of the bombs the attackers rigged at the school went off, and security forces rushed to free hostages.
Prosecutors have called for the death penalty for Nur-Pashi Kulayev, who has admitted to participating in the attack, but denied killing anybody.
It was unclear, however, whether Kulayev could be executed, since Russia imposed a moratorium on the death penalty when it joined the Council of Europe eight years ago.
Many Russians support capital punishment, and some government officials have proposed lifting the moratorium for convicted terrorists.
“I demand that the scoundrel be shot. He has stolen my future,” said Rita Sedakova, 47, whose only daughter was killed in the ordeal. Before the trial began, she and other relatives of victims had gathered outside the courthouse in Vladikavkaz, the capital of the North Ossetia region.
Ella Kesayeva, of the Voice of Beslan activist group, said executing Kulayev would prevent him from revealing more information. Voice of Beslan has severely criticised Russian authorities’ handling of the attack and accused them of withholding information about what happened.
“We propose a life sentence; the death penalty does not suit us,” Kesayeva said. “Kulayev has said practically nothing and he knows a lot. We need to keep him alive as a source of information.”
The attack by heavily armed militants stunned Russia and prompted President Vladimir Putin to push through sweeping political changes that many critics say have dealt democracy a major setback.
Subsequent investigations exposed deep corruption, particularly among regional law enforcement officials, and showed how turbulent Russia’s North Caucasus region remains.
Many victims’ relatives have accused the government of mounting a cover-up, saying that the militants had help from corrupt officials to allow them to cross heavily policed territory to reach Beslan, and they say many victims died needlessly during a botched rescue.
Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov said the court had established that Kulayev participated in murder, the commitment of a terrorist act, the seizure of hostages and other alleged criminal activities he was tried for.
A formal pronunciation of guilt or innocence on the eight charges Kulayev faced was expected at the end of the verdict reading, which court officials have said could take four days or more. Channel One television said it could last two weeks.