Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov announced on September 21 that criminal cases have been launched against three senior police officials in Beslan, North Ossetia, for negligence entailing grave consequences in connection with the school hostage seizure that began on September 1 and ended with deaths of more than 320 people. The officials were identified as Miroslav Aidarov, the former head of the Regional Department of Internal Affairs (ROVD) of North Ossetia’s Pravoberezhny District; Georgy Dryaev, the department’s chief of staff; and Taimuraz Murtazov, a deputy head of the department in charge of service issues. If found guilty, they could receive prison sentences of up to five years. “All officials whose guilt is proven over the course of the investigation will be brought to account,” Kolesnikov told Interfax (Interfax, September 21; Rossiiskaya gazeta, September 22).
While Kolesnikov did not say precisely how the officers were negligent, Kommersant quoted investigators as citing three ways in which they had failed: 1) they did not know the terrorists had trained for the hostage seizure in a wooded area 20 kilometers from Beslan for 3-4 days before the attack; 2) they had not set up enough checkpoints along the regions bordering Ingushetia; and 3) they should have ordered a storming of the school at the start of the hostage seizure, before the terrorists had time to wire the school with explosives. However, according to the paper, police officials who requested anonymity said that while Aidarov had only headed the Pravoberezhny District police department for a short time, he and the other two accused police officials were experienced veterans and “splendid” professionals (Kommersant, September 22).
Kolesnikov’s announcement corresponded with news that the State Duma will today (September 22) devote its first plenary session following the summer recess to Beslan and the other recent terrorist attacks. Government agencies have submitted some 40 anti-terrorism bills to the lower parliamentary chamber. The upper house, the Federation Council, is expected to meet on September 29 to consider anti-terror legislation, including stricter punishment for officials whose negligence leads to attacks. Both houses of parliament have set up commissions to investigate the Beslan incident (Associated Press, September 21; Moscow Times, September 22).
But while law-enforcement officials in North Ossetia are thus far taking the blame for failing to prevent the Beslan attack, and while some observers have speculated that the republic’s high degree of corruption also facilitated the terrorists (see EDM, September 13), several recent press accounts suggest that some officials in Moscow must also share the blame.
This week, Vyacheslav Izmailov, military correspondent for Novaya gazeta, cited instances in which the federal authorities not only failed to capture top Chechen rebel field commanders, but also actually assisted them. He claimed, for example, that after a leading Chechen separatist field commander, Doku Umarov, was severely wounded in the winter of 2000, Umarov cut a deal with the Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for Fighting Organized Crime (GUBOP) to be treated in a hospital in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria. Izmailov, a former army major who has worked to resolve kidnappings in Chechnya, says that Umarov in return helped to free two Polish hostages and the French freelance photographer Brice Fleutiaux and also to retrieve the body of kidnapped Russian General Gennady Shpigun.
According to Izmailov, then-Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo (now executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States) and other top ministry officials were informed about the deal with Umarov and approved it. Today, Izmailov claims, Umarov is second only to separatist warlord Shamil Basayev in “organizing terrorist acts in the North Caucasus” and had a hand in both the Beslan hostage-taking and the June raid into Ingushetia.
Izmailov also wrote that while Russia’s special services and Foreign Ministry are correct in claiming that many of the terrorists on its wanted list are hiding in Georgia, they are hiding not in the Pankisi Gorge, as the Russian government asserts, but in the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, “whose regimes are controlled by Moscow” (Novaya gazeta, September 20).
Earlier this month, Moskovskie novosti quoted an anonymous Federal Security Service (FSB) reserve officer as saying that the Chechen insurgents’ main sources of financing are in Moscow. “The structures in which the rebels make money are known,” he told the newspaper. “For example, the sale of foreign cars. But as soon as the FSB starts to deal with this in earnest, prosecutors, customs officials, the Interior Ministry, and their own brother officers from other FSB units barge in. They make it known that the people who interest the FSB are their people . . . . An absurd situation arises: financing of the terrorists is carried out with the support of the law-enforcement organs that are trying to battle these terrorists. I know soldiers from special units who here in Moscow assist semi-criminal businessmen to make money and then risk their lives in Chechnya battling against [rebel] fighters who are armed with weapons purchased with this money” (Moskovskie novosti, September 10).