Byline: VALENTINE LOW;ROBERT JOBSON
THE RUSSIAN school siege ended today in bloodshed and chaos.
Children were shot at as they fled the scene when two massive explosions ripped through the school and a gun battle broke out between the terrorists and Russian special forces.
Dozens of injured children, some of them covered in blood, were brought out as more explosions went off and gunfire echoed all around.
Russian television said five of the Chechen separatist hostage-takers - out of a total of around 20 to 25 including women suicide bombers - were killed in the firefight.
Officials said most of the children taken hostage were alive. A total of 158 were taken to hospital. The fate of the adults was unclear, though it was reported that up to 200 people have been injured.
Some of the children were brought out on stretchers, others in the arms of soldiers. Many of them had injuries to their legs, suggesting they had been shot as they tried to escape. One boy had a bloodied chest and head. But only a few dozen were seen - nothing like the hundreds who were believed to have been taken hostage.
One security official said: "Those children who remained in the school, in general, did not suffer. The ones who suffered were the children in the group which ran from the school and on whom the fighters opened fire."
Early reports were confused, but it appeared the hostage-takers detonated explosive as Russian troops went in to collect the bodies of people killed in the initial attack on the building.
Then two more big explosions were heard and troops moved in, possibly fearing the Chechens were carrying out their threat to blow up the school.
Witnesses said troops only entered the building after the explosions. "They were forced to act as the situation unfolded," an official said.
Whatever the truth, it was clear that within minutes the Russian forces had lost control of the situation. It was only after a sustained and bloody battle lasting more than an hour that they were able to claim they were in full control of the school and paramedics could go in. One witness said that after the initial explosion, which brought down a wall and then the roof, hostages started trying to escape.
The Russian news agency Tass said 40 children were evacuated and Russian troops entered the school, firing on hostage-takers who had left the building.
Interfax news agency reported that some of the hostage-takers had tried to flee through crowds of frantic relatives waiting nearby as the special forces moved in. Others reported soldiers firing on fleeing gunmen.
Officials had said some 500 people were being held in the south Russian school in Beslan, North Ossetia, near Chechnya. …