Thu, Dec 01, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Inquiry faults security forces in Beslan tragedy

RARE CRITICISM A probe by a regional government into last year's school siege that left 331 dead rebuked federal agencies for actions they took during the attack

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , MOSCOW

The first government investigation to announce its findings on the terrorist attack on School No. 1 in the southern Russian city of Beslan in September last year criticized law enforcement agencies for a confused and uncoordinated rescue effort and blamed them for allowing the attack in the first place, a lawmaker who led the inquiry said on Tuesday.

The investigation -- carried out by a commission appointed by the regional legislature -- did not corroborate the official versions of some key events during the convulsion of violence that ended the siege on Sept. 3, though it also cast doubt on alternative theories that had been fueled by rumor and outrage over the government's actions.

The commission's report, which totals 40 pages, according to the lawmaker's spokeswoman, has not yet been made public but was summarized by its chairman, Stanislav Kesayev, during a legislative session in Vladikavkaz, the capital of the North Ossetia region.

While the investigation added few new details about the storming of the school, which left 331 hostages dead, more than half of them schoolchildren, the commission's findings amounted to a rare official rebuke of the federal authorities for their actions during the attack.

"Without any doubt the school seizure in Beslan was the result of insufficient measures by law enforcement bodies," Kesayev told his fellow legislators, the Interfax news agency reported. "Among other faults, law enforcement bodies did not do enough to stop a large number of armed people from reaching Beslan, a major rail and air hub, unnoticed."

The investigation failed to establish "with absolute conviction" that a bomb wired by the gunmen who seized the school had accidentally exploded, touching off more explosions and a frantic attempt to rescue the hostages inside, as Russian federal officials have asserted.

Kesayev cited inconsistent reports from different agencies for the inability to resolve the question.

At the same time, he said, there were "no grounds" to believe that a sniper's bullet -- fired by forces outside the school -- had set off the explosion, even as he diplomatically acknowledged that victims' relatives continued to doubt the official account.

Kesayev said that those held responsible for negligence should be punished and that the agencies should be reorganized to prevent future incidents like the one at Beslan.

There was no immediate response by federal officials, but President Vladimir Putin and others have shown little willingness to acknowledge errors in the rescue attempt, laying blame on the man who claimed responsibility for the siege, Shamil Basayev, a leader of secessionist rebels in the nearby region of Chechnya.

North Ossetia's investigation is one of three under way. Russia's prosecutor general is overseeing a criminal inquiry that is to continue at least until March, officials announced on Tuesday.

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