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Hostage Crisis in Russia School Escalates After Roof Collapses

The hostage crisis in a school in southern Russia escalated after the school’s roof collapsed and 30 women and children broke out of the building, prompting a raid of the school.
( [email protected] ) Sep 03, 2004 03:30 PM EDT

At least seven people were killed and 310 others wounded Friday, after masked gunmen besieged a school in southern Russia, taking hundreds hostage for the past three days. At least four of the dead were children.

The scene around the school was chaotic, new agencies report, as people ran through the streets, columns of smoke appeared overhead, and the cries of children and the wounded were heard as they were carried off in stretchers.

The chaos directly followed after commandos stormed the building after about 30 women and children broke out of the building, some bloodied and screaming. 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.

Since the hostage crisis in Beslan began three days ago, all orthodox churches of Northern Ossetia had been holding prayer vigils for the safe release of the hostages, reported Italy-based AsiaNews. Bishop Vladikavkaz Theofan, who was part of the operative staff working for the release of the hostages, made a statement earlier condemning the take-over saying, “Children cannot be a bargaining chip. No political end could ever justify the kidnapping of these innocents. Children are the most defenseless part of divine creation and the part that must be most protected.”

Theofan added "even during the most difficult moments in conflicts, opposing sides have never touched children and have done the utmost to keep them from danger."

According to the latest report, troops killed five of the hostage-takers after the commando raid but 13 others escaped and may have taken hostages with them. Meanwhile troops backed by tanks pursued the militants, some of whom were said to be holed up in a house in the area.

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