MOSCOW Ten of the militants who seized a school in southern Russia and took some 1,200 people hostage have been identified and six of them came from Chechnya, where separatist insurgents have been fighting Kremlin forces for five years, security officials said Thursday.
Their identities, reported by regional security officials on condition of anonymity, drew a strong connection between the Chechen insurgency and the hostage-taking last week in the North Ossetian town of Beslan, which ended in gunfire and explosions that killed at least 326 people, many of them children.
Officials who spoke Thursday made no new mention of Arabs being among the militants. Earlier, President Vladimir Putin and Russian investigators had said about 10 of the raiders were Arabs, and security officials were quoted as saying the attack by the band of about 30 hostage-takers may have been financed by al-Qaida operatives.
Security officials also said Thursday that the four other hostage-takers came from Ingushetia, a republic neighboring Chechnya where brazen coordinated attacks on police killed 90 people in June news that could inflame long-standing tensions between the Ingush and the ethnic Ossetians of North Ossetia.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Western countries Thursday of a double standard by granting asylum to Chechen separatist leaders moves he said weaken global anti-terror efforts.
Lavrov's accusations, reported in Russian newspapers and radio and TV broadcasts, reflect longtime Russian anger over what Moscow sees as the West's receptiveness to the rebels, further sharpened by two weeks of terrorist attacks that officials have blamed on Chechnya's separatist militants.
The Kremlin was particularly angered by Britain's granting of asylum to Akhmed Zakayev, an envoy for Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, and by U.S. asylum for Ilyas Akhmadov, who was foreign minister under Maskhadov during Chechnya's de-facto independence in the late 1990s.
"Granting asylum to people involved in terrorism and Russia has documented evidence of this not only causes us regret but also effectively undermines the unity of the anti-terrorist coalition," Lavrov was quoted as saying in Thursday's edition of the newspaper Vremya Novostei.
"It is enough to recall Akhmed Zakayev's statement made from London, in which he plainly and bluntly and without any intricacies blamed what happened in Beslan on the Russian leadership," he said. "I believe the cynicism of this statement is clear to everybody."
"We are far from accusing the leaders of major countries ... of deliberately preserving this double standard," he said. "But the inertia is still very strong."
In comments on the Golos Rossii radio station, Lavrov criticized calls for Russia to seek negotiations with the rebels or for international involvement.
"The situation in the Chechen republic is an internal affair of Russia," Lavrov said, saying such calls "cannot be seen as anything other than attempts to capitalize on tragedy."
Lavrov repeated that sentiment when he met Thursday with Rudolph Giuliani, who was mayor of New York during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Russia brushes off criticism that its policies in Chechnya and the brutality of its troops there feed resentment that boosts support for and collaboration with the rebels who have been fighting Russian forces. The Kremlin instead focuses on contentions that the militants are trained and nurtured by international terrorist groups, including al-Qaida.
Giuliani said that when Americans will mourn the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, they will also think about the victims of the Beslan tragedy, and "this will bring our people together."
"We've unfortunately both now been victims of terrorism on several occasions," he said.
Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, meanwhile, reported to Putin that directors had been appointed for anti-terrorist commissions in the republics of the North Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya.
The announcement clearly showed the Kremlin's concern that inefficiency and corruption had undermined security and that the violence could spread in the North Caucasus, where ethnic tensions create a potentially volatile mix.
The recent string of attacks the downing of two airliners apparently by explosions, a suicide bombing outside a Moscow subway station and last week's school hostage-taking prompted the Federal Security Service to offer a reward of $10 million for information that could help "neutralize" Maskhadov and longtime rebel warlord Shamil Basayev. The two have been accused of masterminding the attack on the school.
The bounty also came with a pledge by Russia's armed forces chief of general staff Col.-Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky that Russia would go after terrorists, even on foreign territory.
Russian leaders, including Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, have asserted the right to act preemptively before, flexing the nuclear-armed former superpower's muscles and tacitly threatening tiny neighboring Georgia that they would pursue Chechen rebels allegedly sheltering on its territory.
On Thursday, Ivanov reiterated Russia's right to make pre-emptive strikes against terrorist bases at home and abroad, but he said nuclear weapons would not be used for such operations, the Interfax news agency reported.
"I consider preventive strikes against the bases of terrorists and their temporary locations completely justified and possible," Interfax quoted him as saying. "War has been declared against us and we must leave ourselves all opportunities for repulsing attacks."
Ivanov said the form such pre-emptive strikes would take would depend on the situation.
"The only thing I can say is that nuclear weapons will not be used for preventive strikes," Interfax quoted him as saying.
Two Russian agents were convicted this year in Qatar for a February car bombing there that killed another Chechen rebel leader, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. Russia has denied involvement.
In North Ossetia, meanwhile, residents rallied Thursday in Vladikavkaz in support of regional president Alexander Dzasokhov, who promised his government would resign over the Beslan tragedy. But many said they were forced to attend.
"We have been brought here in buses," said university student Alim Kelyekhsayev. "We didn't even know what the rally would be devoted to."
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