About 20 armed men and women wearing explosive belts seized a school in southern Russia and are holding at least 300 hostages, including children, in the country's fourth terrorist attack in eight days. As many as 10 people have died in the incident.
The fighters demanded the release of Chechen rebels held after a raid in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia in June. Valery Andreev, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service, said on state television that negotiations had begun. Three people were killed in the storming of the school in Beslan, North Ossetia, said Alexander Osiptsov, a spokesman for the republic's government, in a telephone interview. Seven people died in a hospital, the Itar-Tass news service reported.
U.S. President George W. Bush told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call that he was prepared to offer any support needed to bring about the release of the hostages, the Kremlin press service told Russia's Interfax news agency. The United Nations Security Council called an emergency session to discuss terrorism in Russia, informs Bloomberg.
The assailants have threatened to blow the building up if the security forces surrounding the building dared to attack, while attempts to get food and water to the hostages were proving unsuccessful.
Television reports said that shots resounded during the late evening, while distraught relatives of the mainly young hostages were still waiting outside, awaiting the outcome of Russia's fourth terror act in a week.
While officials have not linked the hostage-takers to Chechen rebels, the event brought back nightmarish memories of the hostage-taking at a Moscow theatre by the separatists in 2002, during which 130 spectators died after police used a poison gas when they stormed the building, reports Channel News Asia.
According to the Indian Express, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking in Moscow even as the hostage crisis unfolded in the south, said the attacks scourging the country amounted to a state of war.
"War has been declared on us, where the enemy is unseen and there is no front," Ivanov told journalists. "This is regrettably not the first and I fear not the last terrorist act."
President Vladimir Putin, for the second time in eight days, disrupted his working vacation in the Black Sea resort of Sochi and returned to Moscow, as he did the day after the two airliners crashed. Putin earlier told Turkish journalists that Russia would never negotiate with terrorists or separatists in Chechnya, who have now been fighting Russian forces in the republic since 1994.
"We shall fight against them, throw them in prisons and destroy them," Putin said, according to the Interfax news agency.
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