Beslan Inquiry Criticizes Agencies
VLADIKAVKAZ -- A North Ossetian parliamentary
inquiry on Tuesday criticized federal law enforcement agencies
over their role during last year's Beslan school attack, but
found they did not provoke the confrontation that led to the
deaths of more than 330 hostages.
A representative of the Beslan Mothers' Committee,
however, criticized the inquiry's findings as "toothless
and extremely cautious," and said it might have been softened
due to pressure from the Prosecutor General's Office.
Announcing the findings at a session of the
regional legislature in Vladikavkaz open to victims' relatives
and reporters, inquiry chairman Stanislav Kesayev challenged
federal prosecutors' version of events, and questioned the role
of leading Federal Security Service and Interior Ministry officials
during the Sept. 1-3, 2004, hostage crisis.
Kesayev, the legislature's deputy speaker,
said there was no evidence that local security services had
been warned before the attack that a group of more than 30 separatist
gunmen were gathering in a forest in neighboring Ingushetia,
and that only general security warnings had been issued.
"It can be inferred from the documents
... provided to our commission by the Interior Ministry that
there was no specific warning that the attack was being planned,"
This finding contradicted statements by Deputy
Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel, the lead federal investigator,
who has said that the North Ossetian Interior Ministry warned
police stations there was a strong possibility that a terrorist
attack was being planned for around the start of the school
year. Several Beslan policemen are now awaiting trial on charges
While Kesayev criticized law enforcement agencies'
response to the attack, however, he offered no recommendations
on preventing or reacting to future attacks.
He did not read out the inquiry's report in
full, only summarizing its conclusions. Apologizing that copies
of the report were not available, he referred to "certain
mysterious technical problems." It appeared that even the
legislature's deputies did not have the full report, and it
was not clear when it would be made public.
Kesayev said he had been asked to whitewash
the authorities' conduct during the attack, but had refused.
The findings were based on solid audio and video materials,
"Some people have asked me to evaluate
the authorities' response ... more positively, but our fellow
deputy's little daughter died in the school," Kesayev said.
"In her death certificate, the cause of death is given
as 'burnt alive,' so how can evaluate things more positively?
My conscience won't allow me to do that."
Kesayev said there were inconsistencies in
the accounts of the hostage crisis provided to his inquiry by
various government agencies. For example, he said, documents
provided by the Prosecutor General's Office and the Emergency
Situations Ministry indicated that sappers were defusing bombs
inside the Beslan school at about 9:00 p.m. on Sept. 3, while
other evidence indicated that Army tanks were firing at the
school buildings where the surviving terrorists could have holed
Kesayev also said he did not understand the
role of two deputy directors of the Federal Security Service,
or FSB, present in Beslan during the crisis. The head of the
local FSB branch running the crisis headquarters, as their subordinate,
could not legally give them orders, and they did not appear
to hold any official positions there, Kesayev said. He also
wondered why FSB director Nikolai Patrushev and Interior Minister
Rashid Nurgaliyev were not in Beslan.
Shepel did not comment Tuesday on Kesayev's
inquiry, saying only that his investigation would continue its
work until at least March.
While noting these and other inconsistencies
in authorities' versions of events, Kesayev did not give a definite
answer about what led to the storming of the school by federal
forces and local volunteers -- an issue that local residents
and investigators have publicly sparred over.
Federal authorities assert commandos had to
storm the school after two explosions rang out inside the gymnasium
where the terrorists had kept more than 1,000 people hostage
for three days, while the sole surviving terrorist, Nur-Pashi
Kulayev, has testified that the bombs went off after a security
forces sniper shot one of the terrorists. Some residents, including
the Beslan Mothers' Committee, maintain that the explosions
occurred after someone fired a shot at the school from where
federal troops were positioned.
Kesayev said Tuesday that the inquiry had not
been able to find out exactly what caused the explosions, but
said the Beslan mothers' theory "has the right to exist."