Report blames Russia police

Extra security was ordered before school hostage crisis, it says

Published: Thursday, Dec. 29 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

BESLAN, Russia — Differing sharply with prosecutors, a parliamentary commission declared Wednesday that last year's school hostage disaster might have been averted had police in Russia's restive south followed orders to increase security on the first day of classes.

When terrorists did seize the school in the southern town of Beslan, the operation to free the hostages was "plagued by shortcomings," with police unprepared to deal with the crisis, lawmaker Alexander Torshin said, summing up the results of a parliamentary probe of the September 2004 assault that left hundreds dead.

The parliamentary report critical of local police contrasted with conclusions from a separate investigation by prosecutors announced one day earlier. Prosecutors said Tuesday that their probe did not reveal any mistakes by authorities in dealing with the siege.

But the new conclusions brought no comfort to residents.

"They will lie again and nobody will be held responsible for the dead children," said Savkuz Dzhusov, who witnessed the events from his apartment.

More than half of the 331 people killed were children. Most died in the climactic conclusion to the siege, when explosions tore through the school and security forces stormed the building.

Valiko Margiyev, who was held hostage along with his wife and 12-year-old daughter, was outraged at mention that 73 percent of the hostages had survived.

"The most horrible thing Torshin said is . . . that the operation was considered successful because only 27 percent of the hostages had been killed," said Margiyev, whose daughter Elvira was killed.

Torshin, in announcing the report's conclusions in Moscow, did not characterize the operation as a success, but Margiyev's interpretation reflected the emotional pain and disdain in Beslan for authorities since the attack.

The parliament commission apparently has no direct authority to call officials to account or initiate prosecutions. But because the parliament is dominated by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, the conclusions could be seen as having the tacit imprimatur of President Vladimir Putin.

Torshin said Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and his deputy sent telegrams less than two weeks before the Beslan raid instructing police in North Ossetia to beef up security on the first day of school.

"That could have prevented the terrorist attack," Torshin said. "But they weren't fulfilled."

On Sept. 1, 2004, only a single policewoman was posted outside the school, and she was taken hostage by raiders demanding that Russian troops withdraw from the nearby republic of Chechnya.

Nearly 16 months have passed since armed Islamic militants seized 1,128 pupils, teachers and parents in Beslan, provoking the three-day standoff that ended in a bloodbath.

On the first two days, local officials reported a much lower number of hostages — 354 — a decision Torshin said was taken by the local head of the Federal Security Service, Valery Andreyev, who has since been put in the agency's reserves. The decision was an apparent attempt to downplay the grim news and reduce public alarm.

The lawmaker also accused police and security officials in North Ossetia and the neighboring region of Ingushetia, from where the militants had launched their raid, of "negligence and carelessness."

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal lawmaker, criticized Torshin's report for not focusing attention on federal authorities' role.

"It is an attempt to put the blame on regional and local law enforcers and not on the leaders of federal ministries, who in my view bear responsibility for what happened — they didn't take preventive measures, they didn't check how their orders were being carried out," Ryzhkov told The Associated Press.

The militants who seized Beslan's School No. 1 herded the hostages into a gymnasium rigged with explosives and kept them there for three days. The siege ended in explosions and gunfire; 186 children were among the dead.

The families said the hostages died needlessly because soldiers used flame-throwers, grenade launchers and tanks against the militants. Many victims claim some hostages were burned to death by flame-throwers.

The families also are convinced the rebels — who crossed heavily policed territory to reach Beslan — got help from corrupt officials.

"The most painful questions are left unanswered" by Torshin's report, Susanna Dudiyeva, head of the Beslan Mothers' Committee, said Wednesday.

But Torshin said the weaponry saved officers' lives, and that no hostages were inside the school when they were used.

Five senior policemen have been charged with criminal negligence for failing to prevent the raid.

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