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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," Kesayev said.

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 of negligence.

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, he said.

"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 up.

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."

Source: The Moscow Times

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