MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) — A group of 32 terrorists hid in a nearby forest before storming the school in southern Russia last week, according to new details released by Russia’s prosecutor-general.
The militants took about 1,200 hostages in the 48-hour siege at the school that ended with the deaths of at least 335 hostages, mostly children.
The standoff between troops and hostage-takers came to a bloody end Friday with terrorists setting off bombs in the gymnasium, where most of the hostages were held and shooting those who tried to flee.
Scores of children were among the hostages who died in the massacre. The hostage-taking incident began last Wednesday when terrorists seized the school in Beslan, a town in North Ossetia, a small southern republic in the middle of the Caucasus — long regarded as an ethnic power keg.
Video inside the gymnasium, shot by the hostage-takers and obtained by Russian television, shows a first-hand glimpse of the horror inside, with hundreds of people, many of them children, huddled in the gymnasium as masked gunmen string up explosives and stand watch.
In a news conference Wednesday, Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov revealed the details from investigators shortly after briefing Russian President Vladimir Putin, earlier in the day.
Ustinov said the investigation has identified two of the militants as women. All 32 had gathered in a forest near the school before piling into two cars and a truck and setting off for the school.
Along the way, they had a shoot-out with police officers but managed to evade them and proceed to the school.
At the school, as parents and children gathered in the courtyard in the early morning for the first day of the school year, the terrorists seized the crowd and herded them into the school building.
The terrorists carried with them a very large quantity of explosives and weapons.
The ringleader was called “the colonel,” Ustinov said. Some dissatisfaction began among the hostage-takers, some of whom apparently were uncomfortable with seizing children. The “colonel” shot one to frighten the other terrorists as well as the hostages.
Later, using a remote control detonator, he blew up two female terrorists who had explosives strapped to their bodies.
The school was mined by three hostage-takers who had engineering training.
Ustinov said the terrorists had threatened everyone, saying, “We are all going to die … we came here to carry out this terrorist act.”
Ustinov said the hostage-takers mistakenly detonated a bomb as they tried to rearrange the explosives inside the gym, which sparked the fire and eventually led to the deadly end of the siege.
Investigators have 30 terrorist bodies, of which eight have been identified, he said. Another suspected terrorist is in custody.
The investigation team includes 60 investigators, 133 experts in technical areas and 180 medical experts.
Meanwhile, Russia’s top security official Yuri Baluyevski said Wednesday the country was prepared to take preemptive strikes against terrorist bases in the region in response to the massacre.
Russia’s FSB intelligence service is offering a $10 million reward for information leading to the capture of two Chechen rebel leaders — Shamil Basayev or Aslan Maskhadov.
Russian officials blame the pair for “inhuman terrorist acts on the territory of the Russian Federation,” including the school massacre.
On Wednesday, the president of North Ossetia said the regional government would step down, news agencies reported.
“I promise that in the next two days there will be an order dismissing all the government,” Reuters quoted President Alexander Dzasokhov as telling a protest rally in the regional capital Vladikavkaz.
On Tuesday, tens of thousands of stunned, sad and angry Russians staged a somber demonstration in Moscow, protesting and mourning the massacre.
Organized by Russia’s powerful trade unions, demonstrators waved signs and listened to speakers outside the Kremlin. The gathering appeared to some observers to be one of the largest ever held there.