Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 34

Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel on September 13 accused residents of Beslan who testified at the trial of Nurpashi Kulaev, the sole living Beslan hostage-taker to be put on trial, of lying. Shepel, a member of the team of prosecutors headed by Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov that President Vladimir Putin ordered to re-investigate the September 2004 tragedy, told Itar-Tass that in the re-investigation process, “a new pattern is observed—some of the witnesses are giving evidence based not on their own observations, but on the basis of the publications of certain respected national and regional media, [and] rumors.” Shepel said that as part of the criminal probe into Beslan, investigators have checked all media items containing information about the hostage seizure and that a number of journalists have given them “invaluable assistance.” On the other hand, there have been publications based “on rumors, unchecked information and fantasies of the authors themselves,” he said, citing specifically the claim—made by eyewitnesses and reported in various media—that more than 32 hostage-takers were involved in the Beslan raid.

Besides raising doubts about the official estimate of the number of hostage-takers, former hostages have stated during testimony at the Kulaev trial that the first explosion in the school, which triggered other blasts and the bloody assault by security forces, came from outside, and that the security forces fired on the school with heavy weapons, including tanks and flame-throwers.

Members of the Beslan Mothers’ Committee denounced Shepel’s comments. The group’s head, Susanna Dudieva, told Ekho Moskvy radio that it was “frivolous” and “irresponsible” for Shepel to “agitate” the people in this way. “Our children were killed by this frivolousness and irresponsibility,” she said. “We will not allow things to continue in this direction. We will raise the question of Shepel’s removal.” Another member of the committee, Ella Kesaeva, told Kavkazky Uzel: “We no longer believe anybody—neither the president nor Shepel nor Kolesnikov…. The whole town was at the school a year ago, and now the whole town is being accused of bearing false witness…. It turns out, that the president deceived our representatives, promising on September 2 to look into everything.” Kesaeva added that “we can no longer remain silent. We understand we cannot do much—for example, we are now preparing a written appeal demanding Nikolai Shepel’s resignation. We understand that the authorities will not punish themselves….But it is impossible to remain silent, it is impossible to tolerate such an insolent lie; the entire world community must know what is going on here, how justice is being replaced.”

The Beslan Mothers’ Committee was also harshly critical of comments made by Nikolai Shepel on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, when he claimed that the evidence shows that the Beslan raid was the work of international terrorists. According to Itar-Tass, Shepel said that this evidence includes a videocassette showing a recorded “instruction session” held for a group called the “Jamaat Caliphate,” which, he claimed, carried out the attack on Beslan’s School No. 1. The Beslan attack, he said, was coordinated by Abu Zeit, the Arab warlord reportedly killed in February of this year, and Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev. Shepel also claimed that investigators have testimony from rebel gunmen who say that the late rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov personally briefed the group that carried out the Beslan raid.

Responding to Shepel’s claim that Beslan was an act of international terrorism, Ella Kesaeva told Ekho Moskvy on September 11 that “the prosecutor, like us, knows the ethnic composition of the gang” that carried out the Beslan raid—an apparent reference to the fact that the hostage takers were mainly Ingush, along with several Chechens. “That statement speaks once again to the fact that the official investigation in every way possible is strenuously covering up those crimes that were committed in Beslan’s School No. 1 during the storming, when children were burned up by Shmel [incendiary rocket grenades] and shot by tanks and flamethrowers. No one is responsible for international terrorism.” Kesaeva also said that Shepel’s comments showed that President Putin’s September 2 meeting with the Beslan Mothers’ Committee representatives, in which he promised there would be an objective investigation, had “yielded no results whatever.”