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Five years after Beslan tragedy, questions linger

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MOSCOW – It was a parent's worst nightmare.

On the first day of school, Sept. 1, 2004, terrorists seized Beslan's School No. 1, herding more than 1,000 children and teachers into a gymnasium at gunpoint, where they held them without food or water for three tense days as townspeople and Russian special forces looked on from the nearby street.

On the third day, the nightmare turned to sheer horror. Russian troops assaulted the crowded school amid a wave of explosions and a storm of gunfire. Hundreds were pulled to safety but when the shooting stopped, many hours later, more than 330 people – mostly children – were dead.

For many of the bereaved parents of Beslan and other Russians, the questions about what happened on that terrible day have never been satisfactorily answered. No official, at any level, was fired over the catalogue of blunders that led to the deadly firestorm that killed hundreds of children. The Kremlin, backed by an obedient State Duma, blocked a full investigation.

But unofficial studies have contradicted the official line by suggesting that the Army may have opened hostilities – and not the terrorists – and that the military subsequently used heavy weaponry, including tank shells, inside the hostage-filled gymnasium.

"From that day to the present, people here blame the authorities," says Khasan Dzutsev, director of the Center of Social Surveys in Vladikavkaz, capital of North Ossetia, where Beslan is located. "The [security forces] did not even do the most elementary things to save people."

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