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Reporter: Up to 100 bodies seen in Russia school gym
(Agencies)
Updated: 2004-09-03 20:29

Up to 100 bodies were seen lying in a Russian school gymnasium after troops stormed the building to end a two-day siege, a British ITV News reporter said Friday.

A man grieves over the body of a woman killed in a school seized by heavily armed masked men and women in the town of Beslan in the province of North Ossetia near Chechnya , September 3, 2004. Up to 100 bodies were seen lying in the Russian school gymnasium after troops stormed the building to end a two-day siege, a British ITV News reporter said on Friday, after naked children ran out screaming amid explosions and machinegun fire. [Reuters]

Julian Manyon of ITV news said his cameraman got into the gym briefly and saw up to a hundred bodies. Manyon said, "There were a large number of corpses lying on the smoldering floor." He said it appeared explosive charges laid by the attackers had been detonated.

"The fire fighters have been in there to try and put the flames out. I wasn't able to get through the door. I was stopped by the Russian soldiers. But our cameraman ... did manage to get through the door just for a few moments. He told me that in his estimation there are as many as 100 dead bodies, I am afraid, lying on the smoldering floor of the gymnasium where we know that a large number of the hostages were being held."

Earlier reports

At least seven people were killed and 310 others wounded Friday, reports said, after commandos stormed a school in southern Russia where hundreds had been held hostage for three days by Chechen rebels strapped with explosives.


People carry a a victim from a seized school in Beslan, North Ossetia, Friday, Sept. 3, 2004. [Reuters]
Troops killed five of the hostage-takers but 13 others escaped, the ITAR-Tass news agency said. Troops backed by tanks were pursuing the militants, some of whom were said to be holed up in a house in the area, ITAR-Tass said.

Russian authorities claimed to have control of the school, and the Interfax news agency reported that all the hostages had been evacuated from the school gymnasium. But gunfire continued to ring out some three hours after the commandos' raid.

The scene around the school was chaotic: people running through the streets, columns of smoke overhead, the cries of children and the wounded carried off on stretchers.

Seven people were killed, ITAR-Tass said, and some 310 hostages most of them children were wounded, officials from the regional Health Ministry told the news agency. At least four of the dead were children. A nurse spreading sheets on stretchers told The Associated Press that Russian officials expected "very many" wounded.

The commandos stormed the building on the third day of the hostage crisis in Beslan. The raid came after about 30 women and children broke out of the building, some bloodied and screaming.


Russian Interior Ministry officers carry two boys after they were released from the school seized by heavily armed masked men and women in the town of Beslan in the province of North Ossetia on September 3, 2004.[Reuters]
Interfax said militants fired at children who ran from the building, and unconfirmed reports said some of the hostage-takers, possibly including women bearing suicide belts, may have taken hostages with them.

Women escaping the building were seen fainting and others, some covered in blood, were carried away on stretchers. Many children were only partly clothed because of the stifling heat in the gymnasium where they had been held since the militants took the building Wednesday.

Interfax said the school's roof had collapsed possibly from the explosives some militants had strapped to their bodies. The militants had reportedly threatened to blow up the building if authorities tried to storm.


Location of the school in Beslan, North Ossetia. [Reuters]
On Thursday, the militants had freed about 26 hostages, all women and children, and Russian officials had been in negotiations with the militants since they had seized the building Wednesday.

There were conflicting reports of the number of hostages, with official saying about 350 and people among a small group freed on Wednesday saying there were about 1,500.

President Vladimir Putin had said that everything possible would be done to end the "horrible" crisis and save the lives of the children.

Two major hostage-taking raids by Chechen rebels outside the war-torn region in the past decade prompted forceful Russian rescue operations that led to many deaths. The most recent, the seizure of a Moscow theater in 2002, ended after a knockout gas was pumped into the building, debilitating the captors but causing almost all of the 129 hostage deaths.



 
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