Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 15

Novaya gazeta on April 14 published statements attributed to North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov and the head of the republic’s branch of the Federal Security Service, Valery Andreyev, indicating that it was senior federal FSB and Kremlin officials who were actually in charge of the anti-terrorist operation during last September’s Beslan school hostage crisis, including the botched rescue attempt. While Dzasokhov and Andreyev have taken much of the heat for the Beslan tragedy, in which more than 330 hostages died, half of them children, abridged transcripts of their statements to the North Caucasus branch of the Prosecutor General’s Office indicate that deputy FSB directors Vladimir Pronichev and Vladimir Anisimov along with other officials who had flown in from Moscow set up an alternative headquarters to direct the operation. Indeed, Dzasokhov indicated in his statement that, as Novaya gazeta reporter Yelena Milashina put it, “all of the important decisions of 1-3 September were taken directly under the control of Pronichev and Anisimov or originated with them.”

Among other things, Milashina reported that there are witnesses who say that Dzasokhov’s press secretary, Lev Dugaev, only disseminated information given to him by “Russian presidential staff who were located in Beslan from September 1” and that the manifestly low figure of 354 hostages which Dzasokhov’s office was putting out “was sanctioned by the Moscow guests even though the exact number of hostages was known to all members of the headquarters (and also the Russian presidential administration, which has been confirmed by presidential adviser Aslambek Aslakhanov) within hours after the school was seized.” According to Milashina, witnesses confirm that just several hours after Russian commandos began to storm the school “the group of FSB employees quickly packed up their equipment and left the building of the [Beslan city] administration in an unknown direction.”

Milashina also reports that Dzasokhov and former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev were in contact with Aslan Maskhadov through his emissary, Akhmed Zakaev. Maskhadov agreed in principle to negotiate with the hostage-takers and did not ask for a guarantee of safety; indeed, according to Milashina, he simply asked that he be given unhindered access to the school. Dzasokhov requested two hours to arrange a corridor for Maskhadov, after which the North Ossetian president told Beslan residents that “new people” involved in the negotiating process would soon arrive at the scene and that the school would not be stormed. “Exactly an hour after Dzasokhov’s statement the first two explosions took place, the nature of which remains a mystery to Dzasokhov and to Andreyev and to [Beslan commission of inquiry head Aleksandr] Torshin and to Aushev and to the North Ossetian commission [investigating the Beslan incident],” Milashina wrote. “Precisely these explosions, which provoked the storming of the school, are the biggest mystery of the Beslan tragedy.”

Meanwhile, North Ossetia’s Supreme Court on April 19 held preliminary hearings in the case against Nurpashi Kulaev, the sole surviving Beslan hostage-taker. His trial will begin on May 17 and, according to Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel, will be open to the public, the Associated Press reported. Shepel also told reporters that the two “female terrorists” who took part in the Beslan hostage seizure had been identified. One was Roza Nagaeva from the village of Kirov-Yurt in Chechnya’s Vedeno district, he said, and the other was Mairam Taburova of the village of Mair-Tub in the Shali district. As noted on April 19, Roza Nagaeva was previously named as having carried out the bombing of Moscow’s Rizhskaya metro station on August 31, 2004, but that accusation was later retracted. In addition, Roza’s sister, Amnat Nagaeva, is suspected of having blown up one of the two Russia airliners brought down on August 24, 2004.

Shepel also said yesterday [April 19] that the bodies of 20 of the Beslan terrorists had been identified. However, as noted, last November Shepel said that there were 32 terrorists involved in the Beslan attack and that the bodies of 27 had been identified.