I am just transfixed by this story, for me it is just heartwrenching. I decided I am not going to give the play-by-play update as there are too many unknowns. The Russians have a habit of not providing complete details. I don’t know if it is institutional memory from before the fall of the Iron Curtain, but we keep seeing it happen.
Anyway here are some excerpts from the NYT’s story on this that caught my eye.
Other officials, in Moscow and in North Ossetia, said that Russian forces had not instigated the firefights but were forced to return fire and then to storm the school after the first explosions, which occurred just after 1 p.m.
“Taking advantage of the panic, hostages began to escape,” Lev Dzugayev, a spokesman for North Ossetia’s president, said in an interview, referring to the initial blasts. “The bandits began shooting them in the back. The special forces on our side had to cover the fleeing hostages. This is unfortunately how it happened.”
Even the preliminary toll of this hostage crisis exceeded that of Russia’s last one, in October 2002, when at least 41 armed attackers stormed and held a theater in Moscow for only a few hours longer in a raid with striking similarities. A daring rescue effort by commandos killed all the captors, but also left 129 of the hostages dead, mostly from the effects of a nerve gas pumped into the building. With memories of the siege newly revived, the authorities here had hoped, in vain, to avoid a similarly bloody end.
The dead included several Russian soldiers and security officials â€” one reported killed tonight as he rescued two more children â€” and at least 20 of the estimated force of attackers of 30 or more. What happened to the other captors was unknown. At least a few were reported to have escaped in the confusion.”
“The morgue at the city’s main hospital, though, overflowed. More than 20 bodies lay on stretchers on grass outside. Men and women filed through lifting the sheets that covered the dead, which included children and Russian soldiers or security officers. Recognition brought wrenching, piercing wails. A mother in a red-and-white blouse knelt on the ground, weeping as she kissed her dead daughter’s face.
There were conflicting accounts of the source and the reason for the initial explosions. Some witnesses and officials cited by news agencies said the attackers had mishandled a bomb; some said two of the female fighters had detonated explosive belts wrapped around their bodies; the spokesman for Russia’s Federal Security Service, Sergei N. Ignatchenko, said the explosions might have been staged by the attackers in an effort to sow confusion and escape.
Some of the attackers, he said in an interview in Moscow, had changed into civilian clothes and blended into the panicked crowd fleeing the building. He and others said that some of the attackers, including a sniper on the roof or from a second-story window, had fired on those who fled.
“When they opened fire, we were compelled to give the order for the special forces to attack in order to save people,” he said.”
“Hours after hostages who could streamed from the school, several gunmen remained positioned on the school grounds and battled fiercely, indicating not only their suicidal determination but also a high degree of planning and state of supply. “They showed up with crates and crates of ammunition,” and even dogs, he said.
The violence induced reprisals by incensed residents. There was reports that angry Ossetians had attacked captured gunmen. A man believed to be one of them had made his way to an alley near the school and hid under an army truck before being captured by Russian soldiers during the fighting. A crowd then set upon the man, who was in his 30’s with a big black beard. The crowd beat him, tearing at his clothes, as the soldiers tried to shuffle him away.
“Everybody tried to beat him,” said Khariton Valiyev, 58, who was in the crowd. “People wanted to tear him to pieces. I myself would have pulled his eyes from his head with my fingers.”
His fate was not known.”