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Russia convicts 57 in massive 2005 terrorism case

MOSCOW: A Russian court on Tuesday convicted 57 people, jailing five of them for life, after a decade-long trial over an armed raid on the North Caucasus city of Nalchik.

The October 2005 attack saw dozens of armed men swarm the city, raiding several security offices, arms shops and other buildings. Fifty people died, including 35 policemen, and more than 200 were injured.

Investigators said Tuesday that the assailants “planned to create an Islamic state” in Russia’s Caucasus through terrorist acts and used a large array of weapons ranging from Kalashnikov rifles to shoulder-fired missiles.

In a statement, the Investigative Committee said the supreme court of the Kabardino-Balkaria region convicted all 57 defendants of various charges, giving them sentences ranging from four years and 10 months to 23 years. Five were sentenced to life in prison.

Among the charges were terrorism, illegal arms possession, murder and armed rebellion.

Following the attack several suspected perpetrators, including Chechen militant Shamil Basayev, were killed in various security operations. One suspect died in custody of tuberculosis.

The case took so long that three people were freed after the verdict because their pre-trial detention had already exceeded the length of their sentences.

It had detained so many suspects that regional authorities built a separate building to house them, and rights organisations took issue with the group trial after it was clear that some of the defendants were not involved.

Amnesty International called the verdicts “a huge miscarriage of justice,” citing evidence of torture and alleging that defendants’ subsequent retraction of testimony was ignored.

Moscow has battled a simmering insurgency for several years in the North Caucasus after fighting two wars with separatists in Chechnya. The violence subsequently spread through the predominantly Muslim region. -AFP

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