A court fills with people who witnessed the 2004 slaughter as a defendant is confronted with the bloody crimes.
By Associated Press
Published May 18, 2005
VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia - Survivors of the Beslan school raid and relatives of the dead crammed into a courtroom Tuesday to catch a glimpse of the only man to go on trial for the terror attack that ended in the deaths of more than 330 hostages.
Nur-Pashi Kulayev, in the courtroom cage in which defendants sit in Russian trials, watched impassively as prosecutors opened the trial by reading a long list of victims and relatives and listing the charges of terrorism, murder and others.
"Everything they read today we saw with our own eyes," said Lyudmila Dzegoyeva, 33, one of the more than 1,200 hostages who were held in a sweltering gymnasium at Beslan School No. 1 from Sept. 1-3, 2004, by more than 30 heavily armed militants.
The raid ended in a maelstrom of explosions, gunfire and frightened bloody children fleeing the mayhem. Officials say 31 of the militants were killed and 12 Russian servicemen and emergency workers also died.
Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel read aloud from a dictionary-sized tome of charges and evidence, much of which prosecutors say was compiled from hundreds of eyewitness statements.
Prosecutors read a detailed chronology of the events leading up to and including the seizure, which came on the first day of classes. They also listed in excruciating medical detail the injuries suffered by those wounded.
Most of the two dozen or so spectators in the small courtroom in the capital of the North Ossetia region that includes Beslan were women dressed in black and wearing head scarves. Many wiped tears from their eyes as the prosecutors spoke.
Before the trial began, Kulayev's appointed lawyer, Albert Pliyev, said he thought his client would get a fair trial. Asked if he feared being attacked by angry relatives for defending Kulayev, Pliyev replied: "Of course, there's fear."
In television footage last year, Kulayev was shown confessing to participating in the raid, but said he personally did not kill anyone. He did not enter a plea Tuesday, answering only several routine questions from the judge such as his occupation before the raid. He told the judge he was unemployed.
Like many of those attending, Dzegoyeva said she thought the trial distracted attention from what should be a wider investigation. Critics says authorities apparently were derelict for failing to detect the preparations for the well-coordinated attack.
"This is all useless. What they need to do is find the guilty among themselves," Dzegoyeva said during a midday break.
As the court reconvened, several spectators yelled at Kulayev as he brushed his hair from his face. "Stand up! Look over here so we can see your eyes!" yelled one woman. "You're a beast!" another man shouted.
Later on, several women interrupted the proceedings, complaining about how long the reading was taking.
Shepel later defended the laborious process of reading lists of victims and injuries.
"The point is that we have had 343 people killed, more than 1,300 hostages, 900 eyewitnesses. It's a difficult process," Shepel told reporters. His count included the deaths of Russian servicemen and emergency services workers.
Outside the heavily guarded courthouse, at least a dozen women and men who were unable to get in milled about, some holding signs reading "Corruption is the Source for Terrorism."
Holding a sign calling for regional President Alexander Dzasokhov and other leaders to be put on trial, Ella Kisayeva said Kulayev was just a scapegoat for authorities who she said were truly to blame.
"He is a marionette ... It's the others that are guilty," she said.
If convicted, Kulayev could get up to life in prison. Survivors and others have called for the death penalty, but Russia imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 1996 to join the Council of Europe.