Russia has observed a two-day national period of mourning as relatives bury more than three hundred victims, nearly half of them children, who were murdered at a school in the town of Beslan. The facility was seized by terrorists, apparently associated with Chechen Islamic separatists who have been fighting against Russian government troops for most of the past decade. Beslan is in the Russian Republic of North Ossetia, located in the North Caucasus region.
The school was seized on September 1st, when more than thirty terrorists rushed into the building during a ceremony to mark the first day of classes. The terrorists held more than one-thousand hostages. They demanded independence for Chechnya and refused to let their hostages have access to food and water. According to news reports, the captors may have set off explosives when some hostages tried to escape, triggering a raid by Russian security forces that killed most of the gunmen.
President George W. Bush denounced the hostage-taking as a barbaric act:
“This is yet another grim reminder of the lengths to which terrorists will go to threaten the civilized world. We mourn the innocent lives that have been lost. We stand with the people of Russia. We send them our prayers in this terrible situation.”
The killing of school children is the latest terrorist act involving Chechen separatists. In August, two Russian airliners were blown up by two female Chechen suicide bombers. And in Moscow, at least ten people were killed and many more wounded near a busy subway station where police say a female suicide bomber set off explosives.
“No cause justifies terror,” says President Bush. “Terrorists must be opposed wherever they spread chaos and destruction, including Chechnya.”