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Beslan Siege
April 3, 2006 13:09

A parliamentary report on the Beslan tragedy has been published recently throwing light on some of the worst ever terrorist attacks.

On September 1, 2004 a group of 33 gunmen took 1,128 hostages in the North Ossetian town of Beslan, killing 331, including 186 children.

It’s been more than a year, but still no decisive evidence of why the blasts went off, who started the storm and why there was no patrol to protect a large gathering of children despite warnings.

The 284 page paper put together by Russian parliamentarians independently of the Prosecutor’s General Office reveals a number of “failings and shortcomings”. The document delivered on December 28th by Aleksander Torshin, head of the investigation committee and vice-speaker of the upper house of the Russian Parliament, focuses on the failure by local law enforcement bodies to prevent the terror act.

There had been repeated warnings sent in by the federal interior minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and his deputy Aleksander Chekalin throughout August. Their instructions on August 21 and 31, 2004 to upgrade security forces near educational institutions were not fulfilled. The school year officially begins on September 1, an event usually attended by parents and relatives.

Warnings also came in earlier in the summer from the neigbouring republic of Ingushetia, but were continuously ignored. Carelessness and negligence on the part of North Ossetian and Ingushetian police were pointed out as the major reasons for the tragedy.

The head of the local investigation commission, Stanislav Kesayev, said the identified "failings" included "the fact that a large number of armed people gained access to a major rail and air hub like Beslan without being noticed".

The traffic police car which should have been at the site was diverted to accompany a motorcade of the North Ossetian president. There was just one policewoman left – Susanna Dudiyeva, taken hostage later, too. An off-duty policeman happened to pass the school at the time and was one of the few who opened fire at the militants.

Reports of the number of hostages were conflicting at the beginning – the officials gave 386 while the local inhabitants spoke of more than 1,000. Valery Andreyev, head of the security service department, and commander-in-chief of the operation since August 2, is responsible for keeping the number low . This failing as witnesses say cost the lives of 20 male hostages killed by the terrorists enraged at the underestimation.

Coordination between the rescue services was poor, lacking strong commanders. The president of the republic and other high-ranking officials did not participate as much as the public wanted them to.

The findings by the North Ossetian committee to probe into the bloody siege proved controversial for the authorities and were largely dismissed. According to it, the first explosions in the school gym occurred due to external attacks, probably from a flamethrower or a grenade launcher. The troops were obviously trying to get rid of the militant who controlled bombs installed in the gym.

The authorities later discarded the accusations saying they started to shoot at the building after there were no hostages in it.

Anyhow, according to the parliament’s results, the troops and special services displayed their courage in the rescue operation, leaving two specialists from the Emergencies Ministry, 10 security troops and one Beslan inhabitant dead. 728 hostages, 55 security troops and servicemen were injured.

Among the masterminds of the attack are suspected to be such notorious Chechen warlords as Shamil Basayev, Aslan Maskhadov, Magomet Khadzhiyev, and Arab mercenary Abu Dzeit. The official leader of the terrorists was Ruslan Khuchbarov from Ingushetia.

The gang had a storm plan for another school, in Ingushetia, kept as an alternative. The gunmen, most of them heroine addicts, came together in a camp just 70m from Ingushetia’s local highway and 500m from the village of Psedakh. Video shows the bandits did not use any camouflage in the camp.

Part of the weapons was taken during a raid on Ingushetia’s town of Nazran in June 2004. These include self-made explosives, jet grenade launchers, hand grenades and automatic guns.

Specialists are trying to figure out why the terrorists picked this very school. One of the militants used to go to it as a child.

Beslan’s Voice, an organization running separately from Beslan’s Mothers, has called on the world political leaders, foreign and Russian mass media to assist in the investigation, rather than “send in money, drugs and other humanitarian help”.

They say they have the right to accuse the current Russian regime of conniving at national and international terrorism. Dozens of grave crimes against civilians have been left unsolved and no one has been held accountable, reads their declaration.

The members of the organizations have asked the U.S. authorities to provide them with the space shots of Beslan during the siege.

Some accuse the security forces of failing to draw major militants’ leaders into the negotiations, like Aslan Maskhadov or Shamil Basayev. The parliamentary report says there was an attempt to establish a connection with Aslan Maskhadov via Zakayev, living in London. Maskhadov never replied, says the report.

In contrast to this, Israil Totoonti, a secretary of the deputy speaker, said Maskhadov as well as Zakayev were ready to come for life-saving talks but did not make it.

Questions persist in the case fraught with uncertainties. The parliamentary paper was not designed to be an exhaustive investigation, as stressed by Mr Torshin. Technical experts are still to provide their opinion.

Prosecutor’s Office has extended the case deadline to March.

Tags: terrorism     

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