MOSCOW — The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that Russia failed to adequately protect victims of a 2004 school siege in the city of Beslan that left more than 330 people dead, a verdict that Moscow said it would appeal.
The France-based court said authorities did not take necessary preventive measures to save lives. It said the security forces' use of tank cannon, grenade launchers and flame-throwers contributed to casualties among the hostages. It also noted failures to increase security before the attack despite imminent threats against schools in the area.
A group of 32 heavily armed radical Islamic militants seized the school on the first day of class on Sept. 1, 2004, herding more than 1,000 people into the gymnasium and holding them hostage for nearly three days. The siege ended in gunfire and explosions, leaving 334 dead, more than half of them children. Over 800 people were wounded.
The court ordered that Russia pay nearly 3 million euros ($3.2 million) in total compensation to the 409 Russians who brought the case to the ECHR; they include people who were taken hostage, or injured or are relatives of the hostages or those killed and injured.
The Russian Justice Ministry, announcing its intention to appeal, contended that the judges failed to grasp the gravity of the situation during the siege and specifics of efforts taken to free the hostages.
The ministry said the court's assessment of indiscriminate use of weapons by Russian special forces was groundless, citing results of an official Russian probe into the siege.
Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, also rejected the court's view of disproportionate use of force by the government, saying that "such hypothetical assessment is hardly acceptable."
He told reporters in a conference call that Russia, as a country that came under numerous terror attacks, can't accept the ruling.
"Such wording is absolutely unacceptable for a country that came under attack," Peskov said.
"All the necessary legal action regarding this ruling will be taken," he added.
The head of the Mothers of Beslan group, Aneta Gadieva, said the payment ordered was meagre .
"Somebody will get 5,000 euro, somebody will get 20,000 euro. That's a small sum in compensation for moral damages," she was quoted as telling state news agency Tass.
Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for organizing the school siege. It came amid a particularly violent period in the Islamist insurgency that was connected with the fight between Russian forces and Chechen separatists. A week before the seizure, suicide bombers downed two Russian airliners on the same night, killing a total of 90 people, and another suicide bomber killed 10 people outside a Moscow subway station.
Jim Heintz in Moscow and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.
Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press