Government snipers triggered Beslan bloodbath, court told

The explosion that ended the Beslan school hostage-taking was set off when sharpshooters killed 2 militants holding bomb triggers.

The explosion that ended the school hostage-taking in Beslan, Russia was set off when government sharpshooters killed two militants holding triggers to bombs strung through the gymnasium, a Russian court heard Tuesday.

Chechen carpenter Nur-Pashi Kulayev, the only one of the 32 militants to survive the bloody conclusion of the siege, provided new insight into the September hostage-taking and the raid by government soldiers that ended it.

More than 330 schoolchildren, relatives and teachers died during the gun battle and explosions. More than half of those killed were children.

Kulayev's trial began last month at the North Ossetian Supreme Court. He has pleaded innocent to charges including terrorism, murder and attacking law enforcement officers. Conviction would mean life in prison, but survivors would like to see him executed.

According to the ITAR-Tass news agency, Kulayev testified about arguments among the hostage-takers. He said some objected to taking children hostage, and several wanted instead to take the nearby police station.

"The children and women were captured and forced into the school building. Then the militants started shouting: 'The police station is nearby, let's seize it. Why seize the school?' " ITAR-Tass quoted Kulayev as saying.

Kulayev said two of the hostage-takers were women who openly disagreed with their leader about the children hostages and were killed when he set off their bombs by remote control.

He testified earlier that former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed in a Russian special forces operation earlier this year, ordered the hostage-taking. The late separatist politician's supporters deny the charge.

Chechen separatist warlord Shamil Basayev has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Meanwhile, North Ossetia's president, Alexander Dzasokhov, announced Tuesday he will step down sometime this summer.

Beslan is in North Ossetia and the president has been criticized by survivors for ignoring widespread corruption they say allowed the militants to take control of the school.

Dzasokhov did not give any reason for his decision.