Paper: Detainee Told Police About Beslan

Chechen police learned about the Beslan school raid several hours before it began, and at least 60 attackers swooped down on the school, not 32 as officials say, according to a lengthy investigative report published by Novaya Gazeta on Monday.

Police in Chechnya learned about the planned attack three hours in advance but did not alert law enforcement officials in neighboring North Ossetia to tighten security in Beslan schools, Novaya Gazeta wrote Monday, just days before the second anniversary of the attack that killed more than 330 people, more than half of them children.

The newspaper printed a series of police reports, including one that said a detainee in the Chechen town of Shali told police interrogators at 5 a.m. that a school hostage taking had been planned for Beslan. The detainee was identified only by his last name, Arsamikov.

The report did not identify the police officers who wrote the report or say why the information about the imminent attack not been passed on to North Ossetian law enforcement officials.

North Ossetian police and investigators from the Prosecutor General's Office maintain that there had been no concrete information about where terrorists might strike.

Authorities said 32 attackers arrived in a GAZ-66 truck and a sedan on the morning of Sept. 1 and that all were killed but one, who was sentenced to life in prison earlier this year.

However, Novaya Gazeta, citing two witnesses, said two more vehicles with gunmen pulled up to the school just after the hostage taking had begun.

"The overall number of terrorists could reach 60 to 70 people. ... They all came to Beslan via various routes, on various forms of transportation and at various times," the report said.

Some former hostages have previously suggested that more than 32 attackers participated in the raid.

Vladimir Rudyak, a spokesman for the southern branch of the prosecutor's office, which is overseeing the investigation, said Monday that the investigation was still under way but declined to elaborate. "Complicated expertise is being carried out," Rudyak said by telephone from Rostov. He said he knew nothing about Novaya Gazeta's findings and could not comment on them.

Survivors and relatives of those who died have accused officials of attempting to conceal the truth about the botched rescue operation that ended the three-day standoff at the school with some 1,100 hostages inside.

On Aug. 17, a dozen relatives blocked an attempt by the authorities to reenact part of the rescue operation, calling it part of a cover-up.

They picketed the burned-out ruins of the school, preventing prosecutors and firefighters from getting in. They said in a statement that on the final day of the crisis, "firemen came without their protective suits, their equipment didn't work and their tanks were empty."

Earlier this month, Ivan Sidoruk, the new deputy prosecutor general who heads the southern branch, met with a group of Beslan relatives and promised to take their considerations into account while investigating the tragedy. The relatives had accused his predecessor of ignoring their side of the story.