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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

59 Suspects Go on Trial in Nalchik

ReutersOfficials in Nalchik inspecting the bodies of suspected rebels Oct. 14, 2005.
A Kabardino-Balkaria court began hearings Thursday on the October 2005 series of attacks by Islamic militants in Nalchik, in which 142 people were killed over two days.

A record 59 suspects are on trial, each of them facing charges including terrorism, banditry, participation in armed mutiny, murder and other charges that could carry sentences as serious as life in prison, an unidentified court representative said Thursday, Interfax reported. Fourteen other suspects have yet to be apprehended.

The trial in the republic's Supreme Court is closed to the public, the court official said.

On Oct. 13 and 14, 2005, as many as 200 militants attacked police, security and military sites in the republic's capital of Nalchik. Thirty-five servicemen and 12 residents were killed in the clashes. Up to 95 attackers were killed, according to official accounts.

Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for the raid. Basayev was killed the next July in an explosion that the authorities say was caused by the Federal Security Service but Chechen rebels maintain was an accident.

A spokeswoman for the Southern Federal District branch of the Prosecutor General's Office refused to comment on the trial, citing the sensitivity of the case. The branch, located in Rostov-on-Don, was responsible for investigating the raid.

Neither the Kabardino-Balkaria Supreme Court nor the Kabardino-Balkaria presidential press service could be reached despite repeated attempts Thursday.

After the raid, Arsen Kanokov, the newly appointed president of the republic, admitted publicly that the attacks could have been triggered at least in part by brutal crackdowns on Muslims by local police.

The subsequent investigation was roundly criticized by Russian and international human rights groups for alleged repression of suspects and their relatives, with a number of documented cases of torture made public by defense lawyers.

The authorities' refused to hand over the bodies of attackers killed in the clashes for almost two years, ignoring pleas from relatives. A law passed in 2002 after a terrorist raid on a Moscow theater prohibits the release of terrorists' bodies to relatives.

The authorities strengthened security Thursday around the court building, which was erected specially for the trial. NTV television showed riot police officers surrounding the building, while police surrounded trucks filled with sand that had been parked blocking roads leading to the courthouse.

The court was to decide a number of procedural questions on Thursday — most important, whether it would be a trial by jury — in what could become one of the lengthiest cases in Russian legal history.

A source in the Supreme Court said more than 1,000 volumes of evidence from some 400 victims and 2,000 witnesses would be presented, RIA-Novosti reported.

"Russia has never seen a legal proceeding with so many participants," the source said.