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Last Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Beslan attacker jailed for life
Kulayev (foreground) in the dock on 16 May 2006
Kulayev admitted taking part but denied killing anyone

The sole surviving suspect from the Beslan school siege has been found guilty of murder and terrorism at a court in southern Russia.

The judge said Chechen carpenter Nur-Pashi Kulayev deserved the death penalty, but as that was not possible in Russia, they jailed him for life.

Kulayev had denied the charges relating to the 2004 attack in which more than 330 people died, many of them children.

The verdict is the culmination of a year-long, highly emotional trial.

Kulayev deserves the death penalty, but is sentenced to life in prison because a moratorium is in place
Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov

Kulayev, 25, was the only survivor from a group of 32 Chechen separatists who held more than 1,000 children, parents and teachers hostage in the North Ossetia school for three days.

He narrowly avoided being lynched by local people after being discovered hiding underneath a lorry not far from the school after the siege ended in a bloody battle between hostage-takers and Russian troops.

'Fairy tale'

Black-clad mothers of victims had crowded the courtroom for the verdict, carrying banners which read: "There is no forgiveness of the authorities who let Beslan happen."

Attempted murder of members of the security forces
Illegal storage, possession and acquisition of weapons, ammunition and explosives

As Kulayev was led away, some of them tried to attack him while others wailed and banged on the glass and metal cage.

Reactions to the verdict were mixed.

Emiliya Bzarova, who lost a son in the siege, told Russian radio it gave her hope that Kulayev would at some point "tell the truth" and help to convict others.

Another victim's mother, Aneta Gadiyeva, who said she spoke for a majority of the families, said: "The ultimate sentence should have been passed... We believe that this was a particularly evil act and it should have been punished accordingly."

Kulayev admitted participating in the siege, but said he did not kill anyone and dismissed the charges against him as a "fairy tale".

Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov said Kulayev's actions had in part led to the killing of 16 hostages by the attackers and he had detonated a bomb at School Number One that had injured hostages and government troops.

Questions remain

He was also found guilty of shooting children and other hostages who tried to escape the school on the third day of the crisis, the Associated Press reports.

"Kulayev deserves the death penalty, but is sentenced to life in prison because a moratorium is in place," the judge said.

The defendant had behaved "calmly and appropriately" during the trial and was capable of bearing his responsibilities, he added.

Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolay Shepel, who had called for the death penalty, said he was satisfied with the verdict and would not appeal.

But the BBC's Steve Rosenberg says that for many in Beslan, the verdict is not the end of the saga and the town will take many more years to recover from such a loss.

Many, he says, feel questions remain about how so many armed militants could get through so many checkpoints to take over a school.

They believe Kulayev has been made a scapegoat and that there has been a cover-up to hide negligence by officials.

That is why relatives of some of the Beslan victims have already declared they will fight on for the truth they believe has yet to be told, our correspondent says.



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