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Militants in Russia Continue to Hold Hostages After School Raid - 2004-09-03

The siege at the school in southern Russia took a dramatic turn Friday when heavy gunfire from militants inside led Russian troops to storm the building. Hundreds of hostages, including many children, managed to flee. Others have died and some are still being held.

It was midday local time when the heavily armed militants in the school opened fire on a group of schoolchildren who managed to slip out and run away from the school.

Russian troops outside immediately responded with fire, and then stormed the building.

The militants set off explosives attached to the roof of the gymnasium, where hundreds of hostages had been held since Wednesday. The roof collapsed, killing dozens of people inside.

But hundreds of other hostages did manage to escape, most of them children who either ran or were carried by adults to waiting ambulances. Many of the youngsters had wounds, and most had no shirts on after having been kept without food and water in stifling heat inside the school.

"There was firing from up on the second floor, then there was an explosion, and it was impossible to see anything," said one boy. "Then there was another explosion, and everything started to fall."

Meanwhile, fighting continued for hours inside the school as Russian troops tried to flush out militants still inside.

Fighting also raged at a nearby building where several militants were holding out, and it remains unclear if any of the hostage-takers managed to slip away from the area.

Officials say around 20 militants have been killed in the fighting, and they have identified 10 of them as foreigners, probably Arab fighters.

The school siege started on Wednesday when the militants rushed into the building during a ceremony to mark the first day of classes.