Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 29

Are the Russian authorities lying about the number of casualties caused by the August 1 bombing of the military hospital in Mozdok? According to the official figures, widely disseminated in the Russian and western media, fifty occupants of the hospital complex died and eighty-two were wounded. But the Moscow daily Kommersant has received conflicting versions regarding those figures from a source connected to the criminal-investigative team on the scene. According to this source, the hospital was filled to more than its planned capacity of 150 patients. Also, several tents had been deployed on its grounds, each containing an additional eight to sixteen people. The truck bomb that destroyed the hospital was so powerful that only one wall of the building was left standing and nearby buildings were also damaged.

The investigative source told Kommersant that “Almost all those who were in the hospital at that moment [that is, the time of the explosion]–at a rough estimate, that would be about 200 people–were wounded or killed. In addition to that, there were casualties in the city itself. In a next-door cardboard factory alone there were three deaths.” He said the casualty figures that he and his colleagues were seeing in the Russian news media were quite different from those that they themselves had reported to Moscow.

The website commented, “What is the purpose of understating the number of victims? From the standpoint of common sense, there is none–at least not today, when the mass media are still not completely censored. But the tendency has been growing lately: to twist the facts in some clever fashion so as to make a disaster seem a bit less disastrous, to emphasize the positive. Of course it’s too bad that the hospital was blown up, but it’s good that the minister of defense came and quickly restored order. Or the usual line of [interior minister] Gryzlov: There might have been even more casualties if it had not been for the vigilance of the police.”

According to a Reuters report of August 3, rescue workers were told to abandon their efforts less than forty-eight hours after the explosion, and the Russian authorities ordered that the last wall of the main hospital building be pulled down. This decision recalls the authorities’ rush to bulldoze of the site of a 1999 Moscow apartment explosion. Given the capacity of modern forensic science to find important clues even in tiny fragments of rubble, such haste inevitably arouses suspicions of a deliberate cover-up.

Who is guilty of this latest terrorist attack? Sergei Fridinsky, deputy head of the federal procuracy, stated on August 5 that three suspects had been detained in the case, but he declined to reveal their names. An eyewitness to the explosion told Olga Allenova of Kommersant that the truck that had raced into the undefended hospital complex was driven by a man of Caucasian appearance wearing a white shirt.

Aslan Maskhadov’s unaccredited representative in Moscow offered the federal authorities the underground separatist government’s cooperation against such terrorist bombings. “If an investigation should establish that this terrorist act is the work of Chechens, we are ready for joint action to help prevent similar acts in the future,” Salambek Maigov told the news agency Interfax. He insisted that the Maskhadov government had nothing to do with the Mozdok explosion. Maigov also reaffirmed that the terrorist warlord Shamil Basaev “has no relations whatever with the official structures of Ichkeria.”

Several commentators harshly criticized the Russian authorities for failing to take adequate security precautions–an issue that could threaten the chances of the pro-Putin parties in this year’s parliamentary elections. For example, commentator Natalya Serova observed in an article for the website on August 2 that the authorities in North Ossetia had already received reports that a terrorist act was being prepared, but had failed to heighten alerts at strategic sites such as airports and bridges. Russia’s security agencies, she wrote, “have once again shown their incompetence at defending even themselves, even within their own base on the territory of a peaceful republic.”

The hospital was considered one of the best available to Russian servicemen, one officer told Allenova: “Everyone tried to get admitted there.” One surgical team, led by Dr. Aleksandr Dzutsev, was in the midst of an operation when the hospital’s main building was pulverized. The entire team died.