1.00pm - By ANDREW OSBORN in Moscow
All the hostage-takers who seized Beslan's school number one on September 1 were drug addicts and were under the influence of narcotics throughout the 52-hour siege, Russia's Deputy Prosecutor General has claimed.
In a statement to the Interfax news agency, Nikolay Shepel said that forensic tests on the extremists' corpses had shown that 22 of the 32 hostage-takers were on hard drugs and had regularly injected substances such as heroin and morphine while the other 10 had been using softer drugs.
His statement will satisfy many of the bereaved, who have long since claimed that the extremists were "narkomany" or junkies.
Traces of narcotics left in the militants' lifeless bodies exceeded normally lethal levels, Shepel added, indicating that they were long-term addicts and had been high while preparing the terror act which ultimately claimed the lives of 344 people, over half of whom were children.
Their extreme brutality could also have been spurred on by the fact that some of them had run out of drugs.
Shepel said: "Some of the criminals had run out of drugs and were suffering from withdrawal symptoms which are usually accompanied by aggressiveness and uncontrollable behaviour."
"These conclusions allow us to look at the situation from a new angle."
His claims were backed up by Alexander Torshin, the chairman of the parliamentary inquiry into the tragedy, who said that many of the witnesses he and his colleagues had interviewed had said the same.
"The commission is determined to find out what was in these drugs because judging by eyewitness testimony - and we need to check this - the terrorists had practically no pain threshold," he told Ekho Moskvy radio station yesterday.
"They were able to take three bullets and continue to fight and showed no signs of fatigue."
Torshin added that the room where the hostage-takers had slept and fed themselves had provided no supporting evidence and that only date-wrappers had been found there.
Noting that the extremists had drunk and eaten very little during the siege, he said that they appeared to have been taking some kind of "special" drugs to sharpen their eyesight, a crucial faculty for snipers who kept Russian special forces at bay for hours.
Some of the extremists are also known to have listened to German hard rock group Rammstein on personal stereos during the siege to keep themselves edgy and fired up.
Chechen extremists have used drugs before to keep their energy levels high at crucial moments. Many of the militants who seized a packed Moscow theatre in 2002 were revealed to have been "high": the authorities found syringes and narcotics inside afterwards.
The Beslan parliamentary commission, which is made up of 12 senators and 10 deputies, has said it hopes to complete its work within six months. It initially had 50 questions it wanted answered but that number has now mushroomed to over 500.
It is unclear how much of its findings will be made public; one commission member has already warned that the truth about Beslan might be too unpalatable for many members of the public.