Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 21

In a three-part series published May 24-26, Moskovsky komsomolets shed new light on the Beslan hostage tragedy based on investigative documents and testimony from officials who were involved in the hostage-seizure and its bloody aftermath. Among other things, the newspaper presented evidence confirming earlier reports that heavy weapons, including the cannon of a tank, were used in the assault against the hostage takers. It quoted from a report by an aide to the military prosecutor of the Vladikavkaz garrison, identified as Major of Justice Eminov, who stated that Shmel flamethrowers, RPG-25 rocket-propelled grenades and a T-72 tank were used during the assault on the school and the freeing of hostages on September 3, 2004, which may have killed hostages or caused them “bodily injuries of various degrees of severity.” The newspaper quoted from a transcript of testimony given by the commander of the T-72 in question, a Sergeant Godovalov, who said that the tank was brought up close to the school cafeteria on the orders of an officer of Alpha, the elite anti-terrorist unit. The sergeant said that on the orders of the Alpha officer, the tank fired four times at a spot where one of the terrorists was believed to be located, and then was moved to another area, where, again on the Alpha officer’s orders, it fired three “antipersonnel rounds” at three outermost windows on the school building’s second floor. According to Moskovsky komsomolets, officers from Alpha and another special anti-terrorist unit, Vympel, also ordered armored personnel carriers to provide covering fire for commandos who were storming the building.

The newspaper also quoted an unnamed special services staffer who was an eyewitness to the Beslan events as saying that officials at the scene had reached a kind of agreement with the hostage takers, who from the start had asked for money and a “green corridor” by which to escape. According to the staffer, they asked for Aslan Maskhadov to serve as the go-between in negotiations, and the rebel leader was contacted through his representative Akhmed Zakaev. An agreement was reached that Maskhadov and Zakaev would come to Beslan with a safe passage guarantee from the authorities and leave with the hostage takers, who would release most of the hostages, starting with children. The terrorists would take the remaining hostages to Georgia, where they would be released. According to the source, such a deal was reached and “cars were prepared” for the hostage takers.

Moskovsky komsomolets also quoted from a report to Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev several days after the hostage crisis’s bloody denouement, which stated that at 5 AM on September 1, 2004, police in the Chechen town of Shali detained someone named Arsamikov who told them that there was a plot to seize schools in Beslan. “And now simulate the situation,” the newspaper wrote. “You have information that a terrorist act is imminent. The time and place of the future [terrorist act] is known. You have four hours and five minutes (they will seize the school only at 9:05) and special communications. Is it possible to report this to the Beslan special services? Is there time to avert this catastrophe? The questions are rhetorical, especially when you consider that this town in the North Caucasus is small: there are only four schools there. But absolutely nothing is done to prevent a terrorist attack.” The paper also quoted a Beslan resident, Baliko Margiev, who said that when his car was carefully inspected by GAI traffic police on the edge of the town on August 28 – four days before the school seizure – he was told after asking why the inspection was taking place: “A group of militants have penetrated Beslan.”

Among the newspaper’s other findings from official documents and testimony: that forensic-chemical analysis of the bodies of the terrorists determined that 22 had injected heroin or morphine. It quoted unnamed specialists as saying that some of the hostage takers ran out of narcotics and became aggressive and behaviorally unpredictable as a result.

Nur-Pashi Kulaev, whom authorities say is the sole surviving member of the terrorists who seized Beslan’s School No. 1, told the Vladizkavkaz court where he is on trial that federal troops began storming the school without any provocation from the hostage-takers inside and that the explosions in the school building took place when two hostage-takers who were standing with their feet on bomb detonators were shot, causing their bombs to explode. As the Moscow Times noted on June 1, Kulaev’s testimony contradicts the claims by federal authorities that troops decided to storm the building only after the two explosions went off.

Meanwhile, Dmitry Kozak, the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, told reporters on May 31 that North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov had sent a letter to President Putin requesting that he be relieved of his duties early. Dzasokhov, whose term in office expires in January, has faced public protests in North Ossetia over his administration’s handling of the Beslan hostage crisis.