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Sole Surviving Beslan School Attacker Receives Life Sentence

The only surviving attacker of a school in southern Russia has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in a school siege that led to the deaths of more than 300 people almost two years ago. The verdict caps a year-long trial that has included many emotional outbursts in the courtroom in the region where the massacre took place.

The judge in southern Russia first sentenced 25-year-old Nurpashi Kulayev to death, but then immediately commuted the sentence to life in prison because Russia no longer has the death penalty.

Judge Tamerlan Aguzarov of the North Ossetian Supreme Court said Kulayev was guilty of murder, terrorism and attempted murder of law enforcement personnel. He read out the sentence to a courtroom filled mostly with relatives of many of the 331 people who died in the three-day siege of School Number One in the town of Beslan.

Kulayev looked on impassively from behind a bullet-proof glass wall installed in the courtroom. He has admitted taking part in the seizure of the school in September 2004, but claims he never shot or killed anyone.

After hearing the verdict, Kulayev described the evidence brought against him as made-up fairy tales.

This prompted an angry response inside the courtroom. Several mothers whose children died during the school siege tried to grab and punch him as he was being led out.

Prosecutors had argued that an exception to the death penalty moratorium should be made in the case, which they described as one of particular cruelty.

The year-long trial has unfolded amid scenes of anger among the the relatives of the Beslan victims.

Aneta Gadiyeva is one of the mothers who children have died. She says the punishment must fit the crime because only death will deprive Kulayev of the happy things he will still get by being in prison the rest of his life.

Many of the mothers say Kulayev is not the only person who should be on trial. They also accuse government officials of negligence for failing to prevent the militants from reaching the school.

Some also accuse federal officials, and even President Vladimir Putin, of ordering the assault on the third day of the siege, which ended in chaotic scenes of gunfire as scores of half-naked, bloodied children ran for their lives.

The main government investigation into the circumstances of the siege has not been completed, and observers are saying that the full truth of the incident may never be known.