Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 41

The Prosecutor General’s Office announced on November 5 that it will check the claims made in a leading Russian newspaper that more terrorists were involved in the Beslan hostage seizure than previously admitted officially. “Even though the investigation team had solid evidence that there were 32 terrorists in Beslan, I have ordered an examination of that information,” Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel told Interfax.

Komsomolskaya pravda published an article on November 4 featuring “Vasily K.,” who identified himself as a member of a Southern Federal District spetsnaz commando unit who participated in the storming of Beslan’s School No. 1 on September 3. He said he personally counted 52 militants at the end of the operation – 49 dead and three captured alive. He claimed that among those captured were not only Nur-Pashi Kulaev, whom the authorities presented on television shortly after the raid as the single captured terrorist, but also Vladimir Khodov, a North Ossetian officially reported to have been killed in the storming, and a female suicide bomber. “I saw how they interrogated Khodov,” Vasily K. said, adding that at one point Khodov “pulled out a 50-ruble note and said, ‘With this piece of paper I passed through all the checkpoints and with the help of it, I will get out of prison in two years and again kill for cash.’ Throughout the whole interrogation he was insolent and self-assured. On the evening of September 4 they took him to Moscow; what’s happening with him now, I don’t know.”

Vasily K. claimed that the authorities are hiding the fact that Khodov is alive because he was one of the hostage seizure’s main organizers and is close to Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev. The commando also said that the raid was not, as the Prosecutor General’s Office alleged, led by Ruslan Khuchbarov, known as the “Colonel,” but by Magomed Evloev, an ethnic Ingush known as “Magas” who is Basaev’s personal bodyguard. Khuchbarov, he said, was Evloev’s right-hand man. “On the photograph of the dead Evloev is visible a braid with an Arabic character that testifies to the fact that he belongs to the clan of ‘brigade’ commanders,” Vasily K. told Komsomolskaya pravda.

As indirect evidence that there were more than 32 hostage-takers, Vasily K. said that 47 automatic rifles were seized in the school along with three grenade launchers and other weapons. He also claimed that some 15 terrorists arrived in Beslan four days before seizure: “Police received numerous calls about suspicious looking people, but no measures were taken.” Vasily K. claimed that there were four female suicide bombers among the terrorists, three of whom managed to escape, as wells as a Beslan resident, who was an ethnic Ossetian.

On November 4, quoted Elena Duda, a Komsomolskaya pravda editor, as saying that the newspaper was ready to present Vasily K. to the parliamentary commission that is investigating the Beslan tragedy. She said that while the paper had no documentary evidence proving the commando’s claims, it had no reason to disbelieve him. On November 2, Stanislav Kesaev, head of the North Ossetian parliament’s commission to investigate Beslan, had said that both the federal and North Ossetian investigative commissions had “testimonial evidence” that there were more than 32 terrorists.

Questions also remain about the number of hostages killed in Beslan. Earlier this month, Versiya quoted an unnamed employee of a morgue in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, as saying that the morgue had issued 648 death certificates. The weekly newspaper said that people in Beslan believed the true number of deaths to be “around a thousand.” According to the Prosecutor General’s office, 330 people were killed, including 172 children.

Meanwhile, Vremya novostei reported on November 3 that investigators had identified among the dead Beslan terrorists the body of Bashir Pliev, a former senior officer with the Ingushetian Interior Ministry’s internal affairs department, who has been on the wanted list for involvement in the June insurgent raids on law-enforcement installations in Ingushetia. According to the paper, investigators believe Pliev chauffeured Shamil Basaev and fellow Chechen rebel field commander Doku Umarov into Ingushetia for that operation.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the parliamentary commission investigating the Beslan tragedy, Aleksandr Torshin, told Mayak radio on November 5 that corruption within the local law-enforcement agencies was hampering the inquiry. “Corruption, total corruption in the North Caucasus – that is what we are encountering,” Torshin said. “As a result of bribes, somebody who is not professional, steadfast, or brave can get into the law-enforcement agencies.”