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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Beslan Attacker Sentenced to Life in Prison

APJudge Aguzarov walking past Kulayev as he entered the courtroom on Friday.
VLADIKAVKAZ -- A judge on Friday convicted Nurpashi Kulayev of participating in the Beslan hostage-taking and sentenced him to life in prison, prompting grieving relatives to hurl themselves at the defendant's cage in a vain attempt to attack him.

The ruling ended the yearlong trial of Kulayev, a 25-year-old carpenter and father of two young children who is believed to be the sole surviving hostage-taker from the Sept. 1-3, 2004, attack. A total of 331 hostages, including 186 children, died.

Kulayev had admitted to being among the 32 attackers but said he did not kill anyone -- an argument rejected by Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov of the North Ossetian Supreme Court.

The judge accused Kulayev of detonating a bomb that injured hostages and federal troops and of being among the gunmen who executed 16 men on the first day of the attack. Kulayev was also found guilty of firing at hostages who tried to run away from the school on the last day of the attack, after explosions sparked a gunfight between attackers, federal forces and armed civilians.

Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Kulayev, but Russia imposed a moratorium on death sentences in 1996 when it joined the Council of Europe. "Kulayev deserves the death penalty but is being sentenced to life imprisonment because the moratorium is in place," Aguzarov said as he finished reading his verdict.

Kulayev continued to maintain that he did not kill anyone. "These tales about me are all invented," he said over the screams of mothers and other relatives of the victims.

After he spoke, several crying and screaming mothers threw themselves at the glass cage where Kulayev was kept during the trial. "May you be damned for allowing him to stay alive," a woman screamed. "Terrorists will come again to take our children hostage because they know that offenders won't be punished in Ossetia." Police restrained the women with great effort.

Kulayev's lawyer Albert Pliyev said his client would appeal.

Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel, who led the state's case, said he was pleased with the verdict. "I'm satisfied. He was found guilty and sentenced," he said at a news conference.

Some relatives were critical of the trial and called for prosecutors to establish all the facts about what had happened at the school. "Kulayev got what he deserved, but the verdict did not answer other questions: How did the terrorists get into our republic, and how could they seize the school unhindered?" said Taimuraz Chedzhemov, a lawyer representing former hostages.

Sergei Grits / AP

Relatives jostling with one another by the courthouse after Friday's verdict.

"We heard proof of the guilt of senior officials during the trial," he said. "We hope that the prosecutor's office calls on all those responsible."

No senior officials have been charged in the attack. Relatives have said all responsibility for the attack was being placed on Kulayev and have accused the government of a coverup, saying the attackers had only managed to reach the school with their weapons with the help of corrupt officials.

Aneta Gadiyeva, whose daughter was killed, said Kulayev should have been sentenced to death. "He will live. He will see pictures of his own children and have hope -- hope that we have lost," she said.

Outside the courthouse, relatives shouted at and jostled with one another.

"Kulayev should be punished just like the rest of us were punished. Let someone mock his children," said Elvira Tuayeva, a relative of the victims.

"I don't wish for anyone to see what we saw in the morgue," she said.