EU court faults Russia for 'serious failings' in a 2004 siege that killed 186 schoolchildren

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday that there were “serious failings” in how Russia handled the 2004 Beslan school siege that left hundreds dead. 

The court said that Russian authorities did not take necessary preventative steps to save lives and that their use of tank cannons, grenade launchers, and flame throwers contributed to many of the casualties among the hostages.

The court also said that they failed to increase security before the attack, despite the many threats against schools in the area. 

“The authorities had been in possession of sufficiently specific information of a planned terrorist attack in the area, linked to an educational institution,” the court said in its ruling. “Nevertheless, not enough had been done to disrupt the terrorists meeting and preparing.”

More than 330 people — including 186 children — were killed, and 750 more were wounded in the assault. Thirty-one rebels were also killed. 

The case was brought by more than 400 Russians who were either involved or had relatives killed or taken hostage, The court has ordered Russia to pay 3 million euros. Moscow called the ruling “absolutely unacceptable.”

On the morning of September 1, 2004, about 30 Chechen radical Islamic rebels   — some wearing explosive belts — stormed the school in North Ossetia, starting a 52-hour long standoff. They took more than 1,100 people hostage, locked hundreds of them into the gymnasium, and opened fire on police. 

The rebels then rigged the gymnasium with explosives and demanded the release of Chechen rebels detained in the republic of Ingushetia and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya.

The next day, the president of Ingushetia negotiated the release of 15 children and 11 women, but just after midnight, rebels detonated two grenades. 

At 1:08 p.m. on September 3, more explosions and gunfire were heard before some hostages escaped.

After 2 p.m., Russian special forces entered the school and confusion ensued for hours. Some local armed residents even took part in the assault. 

Russia Beslan massacre siege Chechnya children victims(AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev, File)Bodies of schoolchildren killed in a school seizure in Beslan, North Ossetia, September 3, 2004.

On September 4, Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev was identified as the mastermind. He took responsibility almost two weeks later and was killed by Russian special forces in July 2006. 

The attack was one of many that Russia endured in the 1990s and 2000s — many of them related to the insurgency in Chechnya. The Chechen rebels began as a separatist group but later turned into an Islamist organisation.

The northern part of the Caucus region — which includes the Russian republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia — is one of the largest sources of foreign jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq. 

Watch hostages flee from the Beslan school:

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