A newspaper reported today (September 8) that one of the men who commanded the group that seized School No. 1 in Beslan, North Ossetia, was a former Ingushetian police officer. According to Vremya novostei, an insurgent who went by the nom de guerre “Magas” led both the Beslan hostage taking and the June raid on law-enforcement and government targets in Ingushetia. While following the Ingushetia raid some media had identified Magas as Magomed Evloev, the newspaper quoted officials now investigating the Beslan attack as saying that the person using the “Magas” tag and Evloev’s passport was in fact Ali Musaevich Taziev, a former police officer in Ingushetia who was thought to have been killed after he was seized by kidnappers in 1998 while guarding the wife of an aide to Ingushetia’s president. Sources in the security services now claim that after being kidnapped, Taziev joined a group of insurgents headed by an Arab field commander, Abu al-Walid, and then went on to form his own 30-man group, which included inhabitants of Ingushetia, Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya, and “two Arabs” (Vremya novostei, September 8). Reports that ethnic Ingush were involved in the Beslan raid are fuelling old Ossetian-Ingush animosities (see EDM, September 7).
Yet much remains unclear in media reports and official comments concerning the identity of those who took part in the Beslan raid. The only captured attacker who has been seen in public, an ethnic Chechen named Nur-Pashi Kulayev who was reportedly a bodyguard for Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basayev, said that the hostage-takers included a man known only by the nickname “Polkovnik” (Colonel) and an ethnic Slav known as “Fantomas,” who was also a Basayev bodyguard. According to Kulayev, “Polkovnik” shot another member of the gang and detonated two female suicide bombers using a remote control after they objected to taking children as hostages (Interfax, September 7; Moscow Times, September 8).
Various media have also claimed an ethnic Ossetian fugitive named Anatoly Khodov as being among the attackers. As to the ethnicity of the other hostage-takers, Deputy Prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky said on September 5 that 32 terrorists were involved in the school seizure and that they included Chechens, Ingush, Tatars, Kazakhs, and Koreans (Russian agencies, September 5). The head of the North Ossetian branch of the Federal Security Service, Valery Andreyev, had claimed on September 3 that ten of the attackers were from Arab countries, and that one among these was black (Russian agencies, September 3). Izvestiya, however, noted that the authorities have not produced the bodies of these suspects. The newspaper, along with other media, suggested that one of the bodies was mistaken for that of a black man because it was heavily charred (Izvestiya, September 6). The Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Moscow, Khairi al-Oridi, said he had been in contact with representatives of Russia’s special services, but that they had not provided him with any evidence that nationals of Arab states had been involved in the Beslan raid. The claim of Arab involvement was premature, al-Oridi said, adding that it was “clear” why this claim was being made. The ambassador was apparently referring to the Russian government’s interest in portraying the Beslan attack as the work of international terrorists rather than the result of spillover from the Chechen conflict. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s embassy in Moscow has asked the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office to officially confirm reports that Kazakh nationals were involved in the Beslan attack, but it has not yet received a response (Newsru.com, September 7).
Newsru.com reported that two other participants in the Beslan attack, both of whom were apparently among those killed by Russian security forces, had previously been in custody. Back in August 2001, Interfax cited the Federal Security Service (FSB) as saying that it had arrested Khan-Pashi Kulayev, an older brother of the man captured in Beslan. “Either the FSB’s report of three years ago was a mistake or Khan-Pashi was released by FSB investigators for lack of evidence or Khan-Pashi (alive or dead) ended up at the school already after it had been stormed,” Newsru.com wrote on September 7. According to the website, another terrorist whose body was reportedly found in the Beslan school, Mairbek Shaibekhanov, had been arrested by Ingushetia’s special services in the autumn of 2003 along with Rustam Ganiev, who is currently in custody and facing charges that he helped organize suicide bombings. Newsru.com also reported that the information provided by Russian officials about the total number of terrorists who participated in the Beslan raid and how many managed to escape remains contradictory (Newsru.com, September 7).
The FSB, meanwhile, denied reports that security forces in Chechnya had destroyed ten houses belonging to relatives of participants in the Beslan attack. “We do not carry out any prosecution of relatives of the terrorists,” FSB spokesman Alexander Murashov told Izvestiya. “If it were really so, we would have to arrest half of Chechnya” (MosNews, September 8).