A Russian judge said yesterday the only surviving member of the group that seized a school and 1,300 hostages in the town of Beslan in 2004 had committed an act of terrorism, as he began reading his verdict in the trial.
Prosecutors have requested the death penalty for Chechen Nurpashi Kulayev, born in 1980, although an official moratorium on capital punishment would lead to such a sentence being changed to one of life imprisonment.
"The court has established the participation of the defendant in murder and attempted murder, in conducting a terrorist act, in taking part in a bandit group, in taking hostages, and in illegally storing and transporting weapons," Itar-Tass news agency quoted the judge as saying.
The court is yet to pronounce whether it will formally find the young Chechen, who says he was made to take part in the raid against his will, guilty. The summing up will take several days.
Witnesses to the rescue operation said a failure of organization prevented injured hostages receiving medical care, with traffic jams full of bleeding children building up, while firefighters lacked water and heavy weaponry was used despite not all hostages being accounted for.
An official probe into the tragedy said negligence and incompetence had contributed to the disaster, which was sparked by two unexplained explosions, although it disappointed survivors by failing to name names.
"Formally, Russia has the death penalty, the judge has the right to impose it. He could use this option, if he wants to show how tough our laws are," said Sergei Nikitin, director of rights group Amnesty International's Moscow office.
Three policemen also went on trial for criminal negligence in March, but survivors' activists say higher officials were passing the buck, and should be made to answer for the disaster.
They have followed Kulayev's trial closely, hoping it will provide details they say were missing from the probes into the unfolding of the tragedy.
"There is hope that he will still tell the truth, and therefore we need him to live," said Ella Kesayeva, head of survivors' pressure group the Voice of Beslan, when asked whether she supported the death penalty for Kulayev.
Source: China Daily