Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 24

The trial in North Ossetia’s Supreme Court of Nur-Pashi Kulaev, the sole participant in the Beslan school seizure to be apprehended by the authorities and put on trial, continues to prove embarrassing to the authorities. According to the Gazeta (gzt.ru) and Kommersant websites, one of the former hostages, Kazbek Dzarasov, began his testimony on June 21 by saying he had not personally seen the hostage-takers take out weapons that had been hidden in the school before the terrorist raid. However, Dzarasov was interrupted by local residents in the courtroom who shouted that he had said in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist raid that weapons and ammunition had been hidden in the school in advance and that the hostage-takers had forced him to tear up the floorboards and take the weapons out. At this point, Dzarasov said that three people dressed in camouflage had come to his home the previous evening – i.e., June 20 – and warned him to keep his mouth shut. After his admission, according to Kommersant, the courtroom’s monitor for journalists went dead and the judges announced a recess. When the recess was over, another former hostage, Svetlana Dzebisova, said that a teacher at the school, who was also a hostage and died in the incident’s denouement, had told her that he had been forced to take weapons out from under the stage in the assembly hall and that weapons had been hidden elsewhere in the school building.

After the court session was adjourned for the day, members of the Mothers of Beslan committee presented a petition to Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel, the lead prosecutor in the case, calling for criminal charges to be brought against former North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, former North Ossetian Federal Security Service (FSB) chief Valery Andreyev, federal Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, FSB Director Nikokai Patrushev and his deputy, Vladimir Pronichev. Yufo.ru reported on June 21 that the petition said Kulaev’s trial had revealed new details about the Beslan incident confirming that “criminal negligence, inertia and mistakes of the power structures during the counter-terrorist operation” resulted in “so many victims.”

Kommersant-Vlast magazine noted in its June 20 edition that Kulaev’s testimony has contradicted the official version of the Beslan tragedy in a number of ways, including the assertion by prosecutors and the Federal Security Service that a number of Arabs and even a black man were involved in the terrorist raid. Kulaev testified that only four of the raiders were Chechens and that the rest were Ingush. He also testified that a sniper took out the terrorist who was standing with his foot on the trigger of a bomb, thereby detonating it and starting the series of explosions that led to the storming of the school. As Vlast put it: “The general sense of his testimony is that the military started the assault.” In addition, one of the former hostages, Ella Kesaeva, told the magazine: “When [Boris] Karnaukhov [chief investigator for the Prosecutor General’s Office in the Beslan case] flew in from Moscow, I met with him. I told him: ‘Our children were shot at with flamethrowers, and so they were burned to death.’ Those flame-throwers were lying around the school and on the roof…I told him that we have a cassette that shows how the sports room looked immediately after the assault. Everything is visible on it – the children sitting all burned up – sitting the way they died. The Shmels [flame-throwers] burned the children to death. And everyone knows what the assault was. And he, Karnaukhov, started screaming at me: ‘Why are you lying?!’ This is how they interrogated all of the witnesses.”

Still, another former hostage Ella Dzarosova, testified on June 16 that Nur-Pashi Kulaev, contrary to his own testimony, took active part in seizing the school. “He ran back and forth like a madman and screamed, cursed, shot into the ceiling,” Kavkazky Uzel quoted her as saying. “He shouted: ‘Keep your mouths shut, or we’ll shoot you.’ She said Kulaev and two other hostage-takers had gathered up male hostages, including her son, taken them outside the school and shot several to death. Her son was not murdered.

Meanwhile State Duma Deputy Arkady Baskaev, a member of the State Duma commission investigating the Beslan tragedy, said a preliminary draft of its report indicated that an accidental explosion, not a planned storming of the school by government troops, set off the ensuing bloody firefight, the Moscow Times reported on June 17. “We have the general view that the explosion itself inside the school was an accident,” Baskaev told gazeta.ru. “Reports in the media that there was some sniper that opened fire are complete nonsense.”