Beslan Children Testify
Published: August 26, 2005 (Issue # 1099)
VLADIKAVKAZ — A 10-year-old boy described how a female terrorist threatened to kill children hiding cell phones, and a teenage boy recalled through tears how he urinated into a bottle so younger children could drink.
The children testified Thursday at the trial of Nurpasha Kulayev, the only surviving suspect who participated in the seizure of the Beslan school on Sept. 1-3 last year. At least 331 hostages, half of them children, were killed.
Kulayev went on trial in May, and the first children took the stand Tuesday. Court was in recess Wednesday.
Tearful Beslan parents and neighbors packed the courtroom Thursday, listening to the children’s simple but sincere accounts of the most vicious terrorist attack in Russia’s modern history.
“One of the female terrorists searched us for mobile phones. She told us that if she found a phone on someone, that person would be killed and three more people near him or her would be killed too,” Azamat Tebiyev, 10, wearing a green-and-white striped shirt, said as he calmly recounted the ordeal.
Malik Kalchakeyev, 14, speaking slowly and with great detail, then told of how the schoolchildren and their parents were herded into the school’s gym, how the attackers stopped providing water and how they taunted the exhausted hostages, often forcing them to stand and sit quickly in the hot, crowded gym.
“On the second day, we were all very thirsty. Women told us, the boys, to pee into plastic bottles so that the children could then drink our pee,” the boy said, bursting into tears. “I peed into a bottle, and small children — even babies — drank it.”
“Listen, Kulayev, listen,” Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov angrily ordered the defendant, who showed no emotion as he sat in a steel cage with bulletproof glass behind the testifying children.
As the boy tried to stop sobbing, the courtroom spectators, mostly women wearing black clothes and black headscarves, swore at Kulayev. “Give this terrorist to us! We will tear the bastard apart!” the women shouted.
Journalists, who were not allowed in the courtroom, watched Thursday’s proceeding via closed-circuit television in another room of the courthouse.
After several minutes, the boy stopped crying and recounted how he ran out of the smoldering school after two explosions occurred in the gym. As he spoke, he kept his eyes fixed on Kulayev.
“Do you want to ask him a question?” the judge asked. The boy shook his head and walked away from the witness stand.
Alan Kochiyev, 13, told how the attackers shot a hostage in the gym. He also recalled how they forced a boy sitting next to him to stand up and threatened to shoot him if the hostages did not keep quiet.
Tamerlan Toguzov, 13, said that after a female suicide bomber died in a blast on the first day, he and his mother, a doctor, removed medicine from her bloodied bags. He said his mother, Larisa Mamitova, treated hostages and wounded attackers and twice was sent out to hand over notes demanding that federal troops be withdrawn from Chechnya and that President Vladimir Putin resign.
The boy said he found a bottle of vodka in one of the bomber’s bags and sipped it with other children because they had nothing else to drink.
“On Sept. 1, they give a bucket of water to one boy and told him to only give it to the children,” said Irina Dzagoyeva, a 17-year-old girl dressed in black and with her black hair pulled back in a ponytail. “They said that if any adult drank the water, they would shoot the boy.”
Dzagoyeva also said one gunman told her that the hostage-taking would last a week.
Keeping her face tense in an attempt to suppress tears, she went on, telling how attackers forced her sister to clean blood from the floor after killing a hostage.
“When they collected our purses, they said, ‘We don’t need any of your money. It is for the likes of you people who are ready to let anyone go anywhere for 50 rubles,’” she said.
Many Beslan residents believe that the attackers bribed their way across the border from Ingushetia, where they spent several days in a forest making last-minute preparations for the attack, to North Ossetia. Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who has said he planned and ordered the Beslan raid, claimed after his hostage-taking raid on a Budyonnovsk hospital in 1995 that only a lack of cash had prevented him and his fighters from going through police checkpoints to reach Moscow.
On Thursday, Kulayev, seemingly unmoved by the children’s accounts, re-told his version of how the first explosion occurred in the gym on Sept. 3. The explosion and a resulting fire prompted federal commandos and vigilantes to storm the school. Dozens of the 1,200 hostages died in the fire.
Kulayev said a federal sniper shot a hostage-taker who was pressing a detonator with his foot, forcing the bomb to explode.
The judge adjourned the trial until Sept. 13, after commemorations for the anniversary of the attack are over.
Staff writer Nabi Abdullaev contributed to this report from Moscow.