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Beslan Mothers Charge Russian Government In European Court

People gather at School No.1 on September 1 to commemorate the victims of the 2004 Beslan school siege.
People gather at School No.1 on September 1 to commemorate the victims of the 2004 Beslan school siege.

BESLAN, Russia -- A nongovernmental organization representing the parents of the nearly 200 children killed at a school in the Russian town of Beslan 10 years ago say they are seeking justice abroad as Russian courts have failed them.

Activists from the NGO Mothers of Beslan told RFE/RL on September 1 -- the anniversary of the takeover of the school that led to the tragedy in 2004 -- that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg will begin hearing their case against the Russian government on October 14.

Ten years ago, on September 1, Islamist insurgents took more than 1,100 children and teachers hostage on the first day of school, demanding the withdrawal of troops from the North Caucasus republic of Chechnya.

The activists insist that a decision by Russian officials to storm the school instead of negotiating led to the ensuing bloodbath that killed 334 people, including 186 children.

Most of the victims were killed by explosions or gunfire during the Russian special forces' assault of the school.

Russian officials said they only gave the order to storm the school after hearing an explosion and said they had no choice but to intervene to prevent the hostage-takers -- who were mostly from Chechnya and Ingushetia -- from killing the students and teachers.

The school siege in Beslan followed deadly bombings of Russian airliners and a Moscow subway station that were blamed on militants from the North Caucasus and precipitated what Kremlin critics say were steps by President Vladimir Putin that curtailed political freedoms.

The advocacy group Freedom House said on September 1 it was concerned "by the Russian Federation’s refusal to conduct a forthright, transparent investigation" of the Beslan tragedy.

North Ossetia republican head Taimuraz Mamsurov, government ministers, district authorities, as well as relatives of the victims, human rights activists, and journalists were among some 3,000 visitors who brought flowers and lit candles to the site on September 1.

The commemorations of the victims will last for three days.

North Ossetia's law enforcement and security services will be working in a high-alert mode until September 6.