The trial of Nur-Pashi Kulayev begins today. Kulayev was the sole surviving member of the group of terrorists that took hostage and killed hundreds of children in a Beslan school last September.
That Kulayev took part in the raid is beyond doubt. He was dragged out from underneath a truck near to the school, and has admitted that he was involved. Kulayev denies charges of murder, however, claiming that he was forced to take part in the raid, and that he only ever fired into the air. He says that he had been told their mission was to attack a Russian army checkpoint, and it was only when he got to the school that their true mission was revealed, at which point, he had no chance of escape.
There is extreme pressure on the court in this case. The Russian people, and particularly the people of Beslan will want to see concrete proof that the perpetrators of this atrocity are not only being brought to justice, but are being punished. I have no idea whether Kulayev actually was press-ganged into service or not, but I hope that the court will take this opportunity to investigate his claims fully, and not brush them under the carpet in its desire for a quick verdict.
If Kulayevs really was press-ganged into participating in the raid, Russia has the opportunity to deliver a PR coup of massive proportions. If the court can demonstrate that Shamil Basayev has so little support among his own men for such hiedous acts of terrorism that he has to force men at gunpoint to kill children, then fear of Basayev can move away from the fear that he can influence public opinion in Chechnya towards a simple fear of the mans ruthless methods.