- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2004

BESLAN, Russia — Holding up the corpse of a man fatally shot in front of hundreds of children at a Russian school, the Muslim terrorist — his pockets stuffed with ammunition and grenades — warned: “If a child utters even a sound, we’ll kill another one.”

When children fainted from lack of sleep, food and water, their masked and camouflaged captors simply sneered. In the intolerable heat of the gym, adults implored children to drink their own urine.

Hours after escaping alive, a woman who had been taken hostage with her 7-year-old son and her mother spoke of three days of unspeakable horror — of children so wired with fear they couldn’t sleep, of captors coolly threatening to kill hostages one by one, of a gymnasium so cramped there was hardly room to move.

“We were in complete fear,” said Alla Gadieyeva, 24, who spoke to a reporter yesterday as she lay collapsed in exhaustion on a stretcher outside a hospital. “People were praying all the time and those that didn’t know how to pray — we taught them.”

The woman told her tale after Russian commandos stormed School No. 1 in this southern town, bringing the nation’s worst hostage crisis to a shattering end of gunfire and explosions.

Mrs. Gadieyeva and her mother, Irina, were in the school courtyard Wednesday seeing off her son, Zaur, on his first day of school when they heard sounds like “balloons popping.”

She thought the noise was part of school festivities. But then five masked gunmen burst into the courtyard, shooting in the air and ordering people to get inside the building. Children, parents and teachers — Mrs. Gadieyeva estimated there were about 1,000 in all — were corralled into a corner on the ground floor and then herded into the gymnasium.

Children whimpered in fear, and all around there was screaming and crying. The hostages were forced to crouch, their hands folded over their heads.

The terrorists’ first order of business was confiscating cell phones. They smashed the phones, then delivered a warning: “If we find any mobile phones, we will shoot 20 people all around you.”

On the first day, people got a tiny bit of water to drink, but no food. After that, Mrs. Gadieyeva said, nothing.

When she asked the rebels for water for her mother, they laughed at her.

“My mother was terrified, and I thought she was having a heart attack. When I saw my son, my mother … go unconscious, so tired, so thirsty, I wanted it all to come to an end,” she said.

“When children began to faint, they laughed,” Mrs. Gadieyeva said. “They were totally indifferent.”

During the ordeal, her son, Zaur, became so traumatized that he would flinch whenever someone touched him, or even brushed by him, she said. As with most of the other children, his only spells of sleep were the times he fell unconscious from thirst and exhaustion.

She recounted how the hostage takers eventually took off their masks. They had beards, long hair, and spoke with Chechen accents, she said.

“They’re not human beings,” Mrs. Gadieyeva said. “What they did to us, I can’t understand.”

As she told her tale, townspeople kept coming up, asking her about the fate of their loved ones.

A man, around 20, asked Mrs. Gadieyeva if she knew what had happened to one of the captives, a woman.

She’s dead, Mrs. Gadieyeva replied.

The man bit his lip, nodded, and then he turned away.

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