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Russian prosecutors investigate group of victims of 2004 school attack for ’extremism’

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    MOSCOW — Russian prosecutors have accused a group of survivors of the 2004 Beslan school seizure of being extremist, one member said Friday, calling the allegation part of a campaign by officials to silence the activists.
    Ella Kesayeva, a chairwoman with the Voice of Beslan, said prosecutors had opened a criminal investigation into the group, which posted prosecution documents on its Web site.
    The Voice of Beslan is one of several victims organizations that have been harshly critical of authorities and their response to the attack on Sept. 1, 2004, when 32 heavily armed militants seized more than 1,100 hostages at School No. 1 in the southern Russian town. The attackers were demanding the withdrawal of federal military troops from the nearby region of Chechnya.
    A total of 334 people — more than half of them children — died at the end of the three-day standoff. Groups such as the Voice of Beslan have rejected government assertions that the terrorists were responsible for sparking the ferocious battle on the last day that resulted in many of the deaths.
    ‘‘We demand the truth about what happened in Beslan despite its horrors. That’s what we’re seeking and that’s why they are seeking to pressure us,’’ said Kesayeva, whose daughter survived the attack.
    Prosecutors have alleged that a public statement the group made in 2005 lambasting President Vladimir Putin and accusing authorities of failing to investigate Beslan and other attacks was extremist. The group also accused the government of effectively turning a blind eye to terrorist threats.
    A court will consider prosecutors’ arguments on Monday, Kesayeva said. If the court was finds the organization guilty of extremism, it could be shut down.
    The Beslan attack was one of several to rattle Russia, and it prompted Putin’s government to push through parliament a series of electoral reforms that critics say tightened Kremlin’s stranglehold on the country’s political life and squeezed dissident voices.
    Russian lawmakers in recent years have broadened the criminal definition of extremism. Critics say broadly worded language gives authorities wide latitude to charge people or close down organizations for otherwise insignificant violations.
    No one answered a phone call to the regional prosecutors office on Friday seeking comment.
    In the months after the attack, several similar groups emerged to criticize the government for its response and for the investigation into the attack’s causes and its chaotic aftermath. Recently, however, the groups have gotten bogged down in infighting and have been less effective in advocating for an independent investigation or garnering sympathy for the survivors.
    A final official report on the attack has not been released, though, the lead parliamentary investigator has suggested homemade bombs rigged by the militants in the gymnasium where the hostages were held were detonated by them.
    In August, another activist group — the Beslan Mothers Committee — released previously unseen video footage that appeared to cast doubt on that conclusion.
    The only attacker known to have survived, Nur-Pashi Kulayev, was sentenced to life in prison in 2006.

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