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ECHR finds 'serious failings' in Russia's handling of the 2004 Beslan massacre

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russian authorities failed to protect the children involved in the 2004 hostage crisis in Beslan in southern Russia. More than 330 people were killed in the attack.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday found a number of failings on the part of Russian authorities in the handling of the hostage crisis in Beslan in 2004. These included violations of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life) - violations on some of which the court delivered unanimous rulings. The Strasbourg court also decided that Russia had failed to take sufficient preventative measures, saying that authorities had ignored warnings about an impending attack at an educational facility in the region, thereby putting hostages at greater risk.

At least 330 people were killed in the attack on School Number One (SNO), including 186 children. More than 100 were injured after the three-day siege at the school, in which armed Islamists from the Russian federal republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia took more than 1,100 people hostage, most of them children.

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Survivors seek justice

The high-profile case involved 447 Russian nationals, mainly survivors of the terror attack and victims' families, who lodged seven applications with the ECHR arguing that excessive force used on the part of Russian security forces caused many of the deaths and that negotiations with the hostage-takers were conducted badly. 

In two five-to-two votes, the ECHR also decided that the command structure of the operation against the hostage-takers had lacked formal leadership and that excessive use of force on the part of security forces had contributed to the escalation of the crisis, leading to more casualties.

No Russian official has been held responsible for the massacre. The Russian government will now have to pay compensation to the claimants to the tune of 3 million euros ($3.3 million) following the ECHR's decision.

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Russia accused of "state terrorism"

The Beslan massacre

The attack took place at the start of the Russian school year, on which a higher-than-usual number of people were present at the SNO in Beslan. The militants stormed the school shortly after 9am local time, forced all hostages into an overcrowded gym, and executed a number of teachers and parents. The hostage-takers stated that the recognition of formal Chechen independence was their main demand.

During the 1990s, Russia waged two wars in Chechnya, which resulted in tens of thousands of civilian and military deaths. Chechnya sought to assert its de facto independence from Moscow, but defeat led to the forced integration of the province into the Russian Federation. Russia's relationship with Chechnya remains conflicted, resulting in repeated bouts of violence.

Terror continues in Russia

The ECHR verdict comes ten days after an attack on the St. Petersburg metro, which saw 14 people killed.

While that attack was allegedly carried out by a suspect from Kyrgyzstan, most assaults in the past have highlighted Russia's conflicted relationship with Chechnya.

Terrorist attacks by Chechen militants in Russia have targeted underground stations on several occasions, including a bombing on the Moscow metro in 2011 costing 41 lives, as well as a similar attack in 2004, which claimed 40 lives.

ss/rt (dpa, AP)

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