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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 September, 2004, 17:42 GMT 18:42 UK
School siege: Eyewitness accounts
A Russian special forces officer has given a graphic account of the carnage during the Beslan school siege - as have surviving hostages, who spoke to Russian newspapers.

Unnamed officer in special unit of Federal Security Service (FSB) in Russia TV interview

"We heard a powerful explosion, and the snipers who had been posted to keep an eye on things said the gym had blown up. Shooting began straight away...

Russian commandos assault school in Beslan
Special forces came under a hail of fire during the assault
"The hostages started running in our direction... We could hear the characteristic crack of bullets over our heads - they were firing from the direction of the school...

"I saw children with gunshot wounds being dragged. There were about 12 children who started running out. About four of our lads immediately, without waiting for orders, formed a human shield, and kept the windows [of the school] in their sights...

"All the entrances were barricaded from inside with desks, chairs and all sorts of rubbish they could gather... So we had to go in through the canteen window.

"When we went in, we had nowhere to tread on the floor - there were too many hostages, women and children...

"A gunman sprang out from a small utility room - it was a dead end, so he tried to break out. He shot one of our men at point-blank range and immediately threw a powerful grenade among the hostages. He was immediately killed by another of our men, who was injured by the fragments of that same grenade. It also killed several hostages.

"There was a dark corridor in front of us, and they were firing from there all the time. We stood a bit to the side, so as not to be hit. I shouted 'Throw a grenade in there!' but the lads said 'How can we? There are children in there!'...

"There were so many grenades being thrown at us, so much firing - what could we do, with all the children there? We could not throw grenades there or do anything. So that's how it was."

Marina Kozyreva, mother of schoolgirl Diana, spent the whole time in the school gym and was later interviewed by Kommersant newspaper

Wounded boy is carried from school during assault
Many of the children who managed to flee were wounded
"Throughout the three days that we were held hostage we were virtually on top of each other. There were about 1,100 of us crammed in there.

"Periodically gunmen came in and for a joke ordered all of us to stand up or sit down. It went on like that all day long. They put a huge explosive device in the middle - about 50cm by 50cm - controlled by a trigger mechanism. One of the terrorists kept squeezing it with his foot. When they got tired they put a pile of books on the button.

"The children behaved very calmly - much more so than the adults. The adults were talking to each other and because of that the gunmen shot many of them. They were all prepared for death, especially on the second and third days, because the gunmen were saying nobody would be able to enter the school and also that people outside didn't give a damn about them. 'They don't even want to give you water or food,' they said. They said nobody had contacted them and nobody had requested anything from them.

"Sometimes they took the boys' clothes, soaked them in a bucket used for the floor mop, then threw the clothes at us, saying 'drink that!'"

Marat Khamayev, 15, also spoke to Kommersant

"Initially we were escorted to the toilet together, then they stopped doing that, and only took the little kids. All the time the explosives were hanging above us - they used adhesive tape to fix it there.

Kantemir Kantemirov searches for his daughter Svetlana
Relatives have been walking around with pictures of missing loved ones
"Before the assault the bandits started arguing with each other about something. I've spent a long time in Chechnya, I know the Chechen language, and they weren't speaking Chechen - they were just speaking a strange language like Arabic, and also Ingush.

"One of the gunmen was reading the Koran constantly, and I counted exactly 23 gunmen altogether. The leader was on the roof the whole time with a sniper's rifle. We realised that, because the others went to him for advice.

"The older pupils were forced to carry desks to barricade the windows. When the assault started one of the bandits shouted 'I'll save you'. Everybody ran towards him and then he blew himself up, killing many people.

"The whole time they never let anybody sleep - if somebody dozed off they would shake him awake again, saying 'no sleeping!' The explosion took place under the roof - there was no external explosion... When the assault came I pulled two girls out with me."

Diana Gadzhinova, 14-year-old girl hostage, speaking to Izvestiya newspaper

"It took us all by surprise. We were told there would be talks and we were ordered to lie face down [in the gym]... Then there was an explosion in the yard. Then there was shooting... [My sister and I] stayed where we were, lying on the floor. But suddenly there was another explosion above us and part of the ceiling fell in. People were screaming, there was panic.

"I looked up and saw some children lying on the floor covered in blood and not moving. There was a dead lady lying beside me. Torn-off arms and legs were lying everywhere. There were bombs hanging on the rope they'd strung up between the basketball hoops, across the gym. And now these bombs began going off, one after the other, coming closer and closer to us. Anyone who could get up ran screaming to the windows and the back entrance corridor. Alina and I were near a window [both sisters managed to escape unscathed]."

Irina, girl hostage

"I woke up under the debris and all was covered in sand - my ears, nose and eyes - and I could not see anything. Then we were taken to the dining room. There we were given water, then explosions started. And then we jumped out of the window and we were taken to the hospital."

Survivor Santa Zangiyeva, 15, spoke to Izvestiya

"There was this thin tall man of about 35, a typical Chechen, his right hand bandaged. He was the angriest of our captors, he was threatening us all the time and firing into the ceiling. It was so stuffy I was unwell, I fainted several times, so my mum asked him to take me to the corridor for a while to take a breath of air. To my surprise he agreed. In the corridor I was nearly sick, my legs gave way, and sat on a rucksack lying by the wall. But he said: 'Don't sit on this one, there are mines in it, sit on that one instead'...

"I asked him 'Will you at least let the children go?' He said: 'No - why? Your Russian troops in Chechnya catch children just like you and cut their heads off. I had a daughter, about your age, and they killed her,' he said."

Moskovskaya Gazeta interviewed Oleg Tideyev, whose son escaped from the besieged school

"I saw a wounded gunman fall out of the [school] window during the fighting. Militiamen were evacuating children nearby. When they saw the gunman, they tore him to bits within seconds. I did not even have time to realise what was happening. I'll be honest: not even for a second did I think - I am witnessing the killing of a human being. It felt like a venomous snake was being trampled...

"They were scum. Professional, well-trained scum. Their actions were highly skilful, their shooting was first-class - you could not raise your head... The only thing they did badly was booby-trapping the building. It was not a good idea to let the hostages assemble explosive devices."

Kommersant interviewed Anzor, a rescuer who helped in the smaller of the school's gyms

"We broke in, and saw piles of men and women, and children too. The children were naked from the waist up. There was nowhere for us to tread, but we had to go in, so we did.

"I pulled four people out. Many people were thrown to the corners by the blast, or maybe they crawled there themselves. Few were alive. We had to find those who were still alive, but how? I made two mistakes myself. When I pulled one young girl out, there was another explosion. Just before that, two girls shouted and waved to us from a window, one was about seven, the other a bit older. I waved back to show I'd come for them right now, and they laughed they were so happy! Then there was an explosion, and I never saw these girls again. I'll keep looking for them in the school..."

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