Thousands of people are taking part in three days of remembrance ceremonies to mark nine years since the Beslan school siege in north Ossetia – Russia’s deadliest terrorist attack.
Local people are expected to flock to the site of the tragedy to light candles, leave toys and flowers and pay tribute to the victims of the attack, which left 334 people dead, 318 of them hostages, including 186 children. Funeral music will be played at the school's gym, which was turned into a memorial site after the attack.
Over a thousand people were taken hostage in Beslan’s Secondary School No. 1 on September 1, 2004, the first day back at school after summer vacation. The hostages were held at gunpoint and denied water, food or medical help for three days.
On September 3, the siege came to an end after terrorists, calling for a separate Chechnya, detonated explosives in the gym and security forces intervened to free the hostages. As well as the dead, the siege left 810 people were wounded. Seventeen children lost both parents. The cemetery where the victims of the siege are buried is described locally as the “Town of Little Angels.”
Twins Soslan and Larisa were four years old at the time of the siege. Although they had not started school, like many people in Beslan they were in the school for the traditional “Knowledge Day” celebrations.
"There was a shower room over there. We went there through lines of gunmen. One of the terrorists was here. And when we left the room, he fired at some of us," Larisa said in RT's documentary “Town of Little Angels.”
"At first I thought it was a sound of bursting balloons or something. But then I got really scared when I saw people smashing windows," said another former hostage, school student Chermen Bugulov.
Natalia Satsaeva, also a hostage, could hardly hold back her tears as she recalled the tragic events. "We were crowded into the gym as if we were cattle meant for the slaughterhouse. We sat wherever we could, some on the floor, others on benches. Senior pupils were told to suspend tripwires from the ceiling. Only then did I realize what was going on..."
The siege began after a group of more than 30 terrorists stormed the school, where hundreds of pupils with flowers were attending the traditional ceremony marking the beginning of the school year with their parents.
A total of 1,128 people were held as hostages in the gym, which the terrorists mined with explosives. Despite negotiations with the terrorists, the hostages were denied medical attention, food and water.
Chechen separatist leader Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for the attack. The terrorists reportedly demanded that Russia’s army leave Chechnya and that the republic be granted independence.
On the afternoon of the third day of the siege, September 3, several blasts shook the school, and a fire broke out. Many of the hostages were shot as they rushed out of the gym. Russia's security forces then began an assault on the besieged school. Twenty-seven terrorists were killed, on top of four who had been killed earlier. The only terrorist captured alive, Nur-Pashi Kulayev, was later sentenced to life in prison.