Russia reacted furiously to an EU demand for an explanation of why the hostage crisis ended in such bloodshed. Ben Bot, the Dutch Foreign Minister, said: "We would like to know from the Russian authorities how this tragedy could have happened."
The remark by Mr Bot, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, drew a withering response. "Inappropriate statements by the Dutch minister look odious ... and blasphemous," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, was among a number of senior European politicians to distance themselves from the Dutch. "The unscrupulous terrorists carry the responsibility ... I don't believe you can talk with terrorists who would shoot children in the back," he said.
Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, called the attack "inhuman and barbaric". He said: "In no way can the victimisation and killing of innocent children be justified in any circumstances, and especially not for political reasons."
Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, said it was only human to question whether a God could exist in the aftermath of such tragedy. "I think it is probably the suffering of children that most deeply challenges anybody's personal faith. When you see the depth of energy that people can put into such evil, then of course there is a flicker."
Pope John Paul II offered his "heartfelt affection to the Russian people in this hour of dismay and anguish".Reuse content