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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May 2005, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Beslan siege suspect trial begins
Nur-Pashi Kulayev in court in Vladikavkaz
Nur-Pashi Kulayev faces life imprisonment if found guilty
The only hostage-taker to have been captured alive after the Beslan school siege has gone on trial in the Russian republic of North Ossetia.

Chechen carpenter Nur-Pashi Kulayev, 24, faces nine charges, including murder, banditry and terrorism.

He has reportedly confessed to taking part in last September's siege that led to the deaths of more than 300 people but denies murder.

The trial is expected to last several months and hear from many survivors.

Security is tight around the court in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz. All roads leading to the supreme court have been sealed off and there is a heavy police presence.

Relatives carrying pictures of some of the victims stood outside the court as Mr Kulayev arrived by police convoy an hour before the hearing was due to start.

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He was led handcuffed into a packed courtroom by six guards and placed in a cage, the Associated Press reported.

Scepticism over trial

Many relatives said they were dreading the proceedings, fearing it would bring back painful memories.

At least 40 were able to crowd into the small courtroom as the trial began.

Flowers cover the floor of the gym

"I want to look him in the face," Liza Matzgoyeva, 75, who lost her 34-year-old son, told AP outside the court.

"I want to see his face, look into it and see if he's a human or not."

But other relatives were sceptical about what the trial would achieve.

"What can we expect from this trial? Everyone knows that it was our special forces that killed them," Vladimir Daurov, who lost his son, told AFP news agency in Beslan.

Prosecutors say Mr Kulayev was one of more than 30 rebels who took part in the three-day siege.

They are not expected to claim Mr Kulayev played a central role in organising the siege, but reject his assertion that he did not know the intended target.

Mr Kulayev has said he believed the target for the raid was a military checkpoint. He said he did not kill anyone, firing his gun only into the air.

He has also said former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed in a Russian special forces operation earlier this year, ordered the siege.

The charge is strongly denied by the late separatist leader's associates.

A number of the crimes of which Mr Kulayev is accused remain capital offences in Russia, but with a moratorium on the death penalty, Mr Kulayev faces life imprisonment if found guilty.

Found hiding

About 330 of the 1,000 pupils and adults taken hostage died in explosions and gun battles between the attackers and Russian security forces outside the building.

Mr Kulayev's thin, unshaven face was shown on Russian state television just hours after the end of the siege.

Mr Kulayev narrowly avoided being lynched by members of the public, having been discovered hiding underneath a truck not far from the school.

Masked Russian commandos dragged him, shaking, before a camera, to which he repeatedly pleaded that he had killed no-one and that he wanted to live.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Survivors speak about their experiences in the seige



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