Nur-Pashi Kulayev (born 1980), a native of Engenoi, Chechnya, is thought to be the sole survivor of the 32 hostage-takers in the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis, although Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev denied the claim, stating that one other escaped.
Han-Pashi (also known as 'Khan'), an avid scholar of the Koran, was the elder of Nur-Pashi's two brothers. He was drafted into the Russian Army in 1991 and served the standard two-year term. He later fought in the First Chechen War on the side of the Chechen rebels. During the Second Chechen War, Han-Pashi once again joined the ranks of the Chechen militants. In August 2001 he was shot in his right arm during a confrontation at an army checkpoint, and claims to have been tortured afterwards. The gunshot wound required his arm to be amputated. He was convicted of being a member of the Chechen militants, but was granted amnesty on December 18, 2001, after which he moved into an Ingush apartment with Nur-Pashi.
It has been suggested that Han-Pashi was still distraught and suicidal over the loss of his arm, and so joined ranks with those planning to assault Beslan, where he was armed with a pistol. It is claimed that Nur-Pashi tagged along to act as a bodyguard for his brother.
On the third day of the hostage crisis, the Beslan siege collapsed into a bloodbath. After the bloody conclusion of the crisis, Nur-Pashi attempted to escape by disguising himself as a hostage and hiding under an OMON truck. One of the local residents noticed him, at which point he was pulled out from beneath the truck and almost lynched by an angry mob before being arrested by Russian special forces.
Clips of his interrogation have been shown by the Russian Channel One, in which he states that the hostage-taking was masterminded by Shamil Basayev and Aslan Maskhadov. He further claimed that while he was among the hostage-takers, he did not kill any of the victims himself, firing his gun only into the air during the confusion.
According to his account, 10 of the 32 hostage-takers were foreigners, including a tall black person and a Korean. He identified a short red-bearded corpse as the Chechnya-born militant nicknamed "Polkovnik" (Colonel), whom later Russian investigation claimed was 32-year-old Ruslan Khuchbarov from the Ingush village of Galashki. A tape reportedly released by Shamil Basayev contradicted this claim, stating that "Polkovnik" was a colonel of the Ichkeria forces.
Kulayev's trial began in Vladikavkaz on May 17, 2005, with prosecutors General Nikolai Shepel and Maria Semisynova seeking life imprisonment on charges of terrorism, murder and hostage-taking on behalf of 1343 plaintiffs. The trial judge was Tamerlan Aguzarov, and Kulayev was defended by Umar Sikoyev and Albert Pliyev, the latter of which had only practised law for 2 weeks prior to being appointed by the state.
His defence laid in the claim that he was one of the recruited Chechens who were told they would be attacking a military checkpoint, and had no foreknowledge their target was the Beslan school; he was reportedly among several of the militants who argued in favour of capturing the local Beslan police station instead.
While no witnesses have claimed he shot any of the victims, several have testified that he ran around the gymnasium shouting curses and threatening to shoot various hostages with his assault rifle; Kulayev testifies that he was only given the firearm to carry because his leaders did not want any of their weapons left lying around where hostages could seize them.
Nur-Pashi has testified that "Polkovnik" smashed his cell phone in rage, stating that Russian forces were unwilling to negotiate, and also killed three of the militants, including the two female suicide bombers who had objected to the scholastic target by detonating one of their bombs. Nur-Pashi was supposed to be shot himself, by his brother Han-Pashi on orders from "Polkovnik", but Han-Pashi refused. Nur-Pashi said the final bloodbath started when Russian snipers killed two hostage-takers who were carrying detonators for the explosives strung around the gymnasium.
His long hair was found unsettling by several of the plaintiffs on the opening day of the trial, and was shaved the following day. Surprisingly, a group of victims' families called Mothers of Beslan led by Susanna Dudiyeva, has shown sympathy for Kulayev, promising to seek an appeal on his behalf given his honesty and cooperation during the trial; one went so far as to pledge to send any compensation money she received to Kulayev's children, though there is otherwise no mention of his having children. The Sydney Morning Herald has been criticized, however, for titling Kulayev the "Timid Guerilla" and referring to him as "more sheepish than sinister."
On September 29, 2005, the Mothers of Beslan called for the chief prosecutor Nikolai Shepel to be replaced for incompetence and claims of merely acting out a scripted prosecution without calling high-ranking Russian officials to testify. On October 4, 2005, the Supreme Court of North Ossetia announced that Shepel would not be replaced, in a disputed ruling. About a month later, the Mothers of Beslan spawned a new group dubbed the Voice of Beslan, which was considered more radical than the former, and courted many of the husbands.
On December 16, 2005, Valery Andreyev, chief of the North Ossetian Federal Security Service (FSB) at the time of the hostage-taking, testified that he had personally given the order to overrun the school during the siege. Four days later it was announced that Alexander Dzasokhov, the former leader of North Ossetia, would testify at Kulayev's trial. His presence was demanded by the Mothers of Beslan.
On February 16, 2006, the trial concluded, pending a verdict due July 1. The Mothers of Beslan reportedly requested the death penalty for Kulayev while the Voice of Beslan lobbied against it. The reading of the verdict began on May 16, 2006, and Kelayev was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Kulayev was incarcerated in a high-security prison on the small lake island of Ognenny Ostrov in the Vologda region. According to one source, he has been given a new name to protect him from possible retaliation by other inmates. The Vologda Colony authorities refused to comment, saying it was secret information.
Kulayev's appeals, which had the support of some of Beslan mothers, were turned down, and his life sentence was upheld in December 2006. He did not appear in the courtroom.
In January 2007 the Head of the Beslan commission asked the Chief Administration for Penitentiary Service of Russia to confirm or refute the assumption that Kulayev was no longer alive. The Federal Punishment Execution Service refuted this, saying he was in "investigatory custody awaiting delivery for serving his punishment".
He was moved to another prison titled "Snowy Owl".
- "Basaev Says Beslan Raid Prompted By FSB Sting", Radio Free Europe, August 31, 2005
- "Timid guerilla shies away from Beslan families' grief", The Sydney Morning Herald, May 19, 2005
- "Beslan Court Rejects Victims' Demand to Replace Prosecutor", MOS News, October 4, 2005
- "Police Gag the Voice of Beslan", Kommersant, October 28, 2005
- "Terror verdict for Beslan suspect", BBC News Online, May 16, 2006
- "Jailed Beslan Terrorist’s Name Changed to Avoid Violence in Prison", MOS News, August 8, 2006