Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 2

Testifying on January 12 at the trial of Nurpashi Kulaev, the sole Beslan hostage-taker to be put on trial, former North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov told the republic’s Supreme Court that during the hostage crisis he tried to contact Aslan Maskhadov through his emissary, Akhmed Zakaev. “During the seizure of hostages in the school I twice spoke to Zakaev, who was in London,” quoted Dzasokhov as saying. “Rumors had reached us that the terrorists had said they might take Maskhadov’s opinion into consideration. The only person through whom we could get in touch with Maskahdov was Zakaev. From our telephone conversations I found out that Zakaev did not have [direct] links with Maskhadov; he contacted him through intermediaries. And it was only at nine in the morning, London-time—2 noon our time—on September 3 that Zakaev reported that Maskhadov was ready to fly to Beslan for negotiations with the terrorists.”

Meanwhile, a member of the federal parliamentary commission investigating the circumstances surrounding the Beslan hostage seizure, Yuri Ivanov, told Radio Liberty’s Russian service on January 10 that a large number of the 331 hostages killed in the tragedy could have been saved and that the federal authorities bear responsibility for the large quantity of victims. He also said that President Vladimir Putin shares the blame. “I have a huge number of questions for the president,” he told the radio station. “I believe the president played a terrible role in this affair. If you don’t count the militants, the bandits, then one of the main parties guilty of these terrible consequences is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.” Ivanov said that while Putin was originally on the lists of those to be questioned by the commission, his name gradually disappeared from them.

At the end of December, the head of the commission, Aleksandr Torshin, made public its preliminary conclusions, many of which contradict testimony given by former hostages and other eyewitnesses. Among other things, Torshin said the commission had completely ruled out the possibility that a sniper had killed one of the hostage takers who was standing on a detonator for the explosives they had wired around the Beslan school, thereby setting off a series of explosions. Torshin also said that tanks at the scene opened fire on the school only after the hostages were no longer inside, and that the use of flamethrowers by FSB commandos did not start the fire that eventually engulfed the school’s roof. Torshin also placed the preponderance of blame for the tragedy on local officials who, he said, did not take proper precautions to prevent the hostage taking despite receiving warnings that an attack was possible. In his testimony at the Nurpashi Kulaev trial, former North Ossetian President Dzasokhov said republican authorities did not receive any warnings ahead of time about a possible hostage seizure.