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Russia: Beslan Hostage Taker Receives Life Sentence

Kulayev was given life imprisonment, due to a Russian moratorium on the death penalty (ITAR-TASS) PRAGUE, May 26, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In an emotional climax to the yearlong trial of the only known survivor among the perpetrators of the September 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, Nurpashi Kulayev was sentenced to life in prison today for his role in the bloody siege that took place in September 2004 at a school in North Ossetia.

As Kulayev was being led out of the southern Russian republic's Supreme Court, survivors and victims' relatives attempted to attack him and banged on the glass and metal cage where he was being held.

Kulayev was found guilty on all charges, "including hostage taking, terrorism, murder, attempted murder, possession of firearms, murder, and attempted murder of law enforcement officers," RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Dzerassa Byazrova reported from Vladikavkaz.

Death Penalty Not An Option

The Supreme Court's chief justice said Kulayev deserved the death penalty, which had been sought by prosecutors. However, Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov said he could only impose life imprisonment due to Russia's moratorium on capital punishment.
"We are satisfied with the verdict because Kulayev has been found guilty on all counts." -- prosecutor

"In accordance with Article 69, Part 3 [on combining charges] of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, [the court] sentences Kulayev to life imprisonment at a special security penal colony," Aguzarov announced.

Aguzarov found Kulayev guilty of taking hostages, taking actions resulting in the deaths of the captives, and inflicting material damages of 34 million rubles ($1.3 million).

Victims' relatives in court (epa)

Aguzarov also said that Kulayev detonated a bomb that caused physical harm to hostages and government troops. The judge held Kulayev responsible for the deaths of 16 hostages whom militants executed on the first day of the crisis.

"We are satisfied with the verdict because Kulayev has been found guilty on all counts," Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel said today. "The positions [of the prosecution and the court] on the measure of punishment coincided, except for one -- he was sentenced to the highest measure of punishment [life in prison] but not to the exceptional measure [death]. This is an alternative measure of punishment. I consider [the sentence] justified and legitimate."

Victims' Families Not Satisfied

But some victims' relatives were not satisfied. Aneta Gadiyeva, who lost her daughter in Beslan, said she believes Kulayev deserved a death sentence.

"The punishment should be adequate to the crime, because death would deprive [Kulayev] of those little joys he could still have during life imprisonment," she said.

Kulayev was part of a group of 32 Chechen separatists that took 1,300 pupils, teachers, and parents hostage at Beslan's School No. 1 in September 2004. After three days, the siege erupted into a bloodbath that killed 331 people, more than half of them children.
"There is no forgiveness of the authorities who let Beslan happen." -- sign held by victims' families

He was nearly lynched when Beslan residents found him hiding under a truck near the school, after the siege collapsed into a fierce battle between Russian forces and the hostage takers.

Citing witness testimony, Judge Aguzarov rejected Kulayev's claim he had been forced to participate in the hostage taking and that he neither threatened nor harmed any of the captives.

Black-clad mothers of the victims crowded into the court to hear the verdict read. Some held banners reading, "There is no forgiveness of the authorities who let Beslan happen." Others held photos of tanks and dead children.

Some survivors and relatives claim that many deaths resulted from troops firing at the school, leading to a fire that caused a roof to collapse.

(with agency reports)

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