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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Few Surprises in Beslan Report

Itar-TassTorshin presenting his Beslan report.
Even though he had promised surprises in his report on the Beslan attack, the head of a parliamentary investigative commission on Wednesday largely followed the lead of prosecutors in blaming local police and security officials and absolving their federal commanders of any wrongdoing.

Alexander Torshin, deputy speaker of the Federation Council, presented the long-awaited preliminary results of his commission's work to both chambers of parliament, but he said a final report would be released only next year, after several simulation tests and other research were completed.

Torshin on Tuesday had promised "unexpected" results, but the main thrust of his findings was to accuse local police of ignoring federal orders to increase security ahead of the start of the school year on Sept. 1, 2004.

A group of 32 terrorists seized Beslan School No. 1 on Sept. 1 and held about 1,000 people hostage until Sept. 3, when the standoff ended in gunfire and explosions. A total of 331 people died, more than half of them children.

Torshin said Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and a deputy interior minister had wired cables to the North Ossetian police force on Aug. 21 and Aug. 31, warning them of a possible terrorist attack and ordering them to heighten security at schools.

Police commanders routinely send orders down the chain of command for subordinates to be extra vigilant and deploy more personnel, but the orders rarely contain concrete intelligence information on when and how the perceived threat might materialize.

In the Beslan case, local police commanders did not heed the warning and assigned only a beat officer to the school, and she was taken hostage with the others, Torshin said. Had more officers been dispatched, "that could have prevented the attack," he said.

Torshin's accusations echoed repeated assertions by federal and local prosecutors that senior officers at the Pravoberezhny district police department, whose jurisdiction includes Beslan, had neglected to boost security at local schools. Five officers have been charged with negligence, and three are soon to go on trial.

Many former hostages and their relatives, however, believe that local officers are being used as scapegoats. They say the cases against the officers and the ongoing trial of the sole surviving terror suspect, Nurpashi Kulayev, are meant to divert public attention away from questions about whether federal commanders and President Vladimir Putin himself should bear responsibility for not preventing the attack.

Ella Kesayeva, the head of the Voice of Beslan, a group of former hostages and their families, reiterated Wednesday that senior officials in the Federal Security Service, or FSB, should be held accountable because two FSB deputy directors purportedly ran the Beslan crisis headquarters while a third supervised the storming of the school.

"No one is saying they [the police officers] are not guilty. Yes, they should be tried in court," she said by telephone. "But those who held negotiations and then ordered the storming and rescue should also be held accountable for the deaths of the children."

Kesayeva said she was disappointed to hear Torshin largely repeat earlier statements by Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov, who carried out an investigation after Beslan families complained that investigators were ignoring evidence about who was responsible for failing to prevent the attack and for allowing the standoff to end in bloodshed.

"From the very beginning, I had a feeling that I had heard this before, and then I realized that he was saying the same thing that Kolesnikov had said," Kesayeva said.

Torshin also echoed investigators from the General Prosecutor's Office in asserting that no federal snipers could have shot a terrorist in the school gym and thus caused one of the many bombs inside to go off. He said the windows were made of tinted plastic, and that a sniper would not have been able to see through them and pick out a target.

Torshin failed to shed any light on what exactly caused the explosion and a second one moments later that prompted troops and commandos, as well as local vigilantes, to storm the building on Sept. 3.

He also agreed with prosecutors that the troops and commandos could not have set the gym's roof on fire during the storming. Most of the casualties occurred in the blaze.

Some witnesses testified at the trial of Kulayev that the advancing commandos fired flame-throwing projectiles at the gym, setting the roof on fire and causing it to collapse.

They have also asserted that federal tanks fired at the school while hostages inside were still alive, contrary to Torshin's and prosecutors' assertions that shots were fired only in the evening, when no live hostages remained.

Torshin did stray from the official line to accuse Valery Andreyev, the former head of the local branch of the FSB and the official head of the crisis headquarters, of endangering lives by deciding initially to announce that only some 350 hostages were inside the school.

Torshin also accused Andreyev, who has been removed from his post but remains in the FSB reserves, of failing to coordinate the operations of the various law enforcement agencies on the ground.

He criticized the local FSB branch and police force in neighboring Ingushetia for failing to detect and interdict the raid, even though the camp where the terrorists had trained was located a half-kilometer from the Ingush village of Psedakh and 70 meters from a road.

He noted that Kulayev had testified at his trial that he openly and freely met with other members of the camp in the village one day before the attack.

Kesayeva, of the Voice of Beslan, said she and other residents strongly doubted that Andreyev had personally decided to underestimate the number of hostages.

"Andreyev is trying to assume all of the guilt, except for ordering the storming" so as to absolve his superiors and other federal officials, she said.

She said that she and fellow activists would demand that FSB deputy directors Vladimir Anisimov and Vladimir Pronichev and former North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov be summoned to Kulayev's trial for a cross-examination aimed at establishing the truth.

Kesayeva's criticism of Torshin's report was echoed by Susanna Dudiyeva, the head of the Beslan Mothers' Committee. "The most painful questions are left unanswered," Dudiyeva told The Associated Press.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent State Duma deputy who attended Wednesday's presentation, also expressed disappointment with the report. He said it shifted the blame from the "political leadership of the country to the regional and district level."

He noted that Andreyev and North Ossetian Interior Minister Kazbek Dzantiyev had been removed from their posts after the attack but faced no charges.

"Almost a year and a half afterward, the commission has failed to answer the main questions: What caused the two blasts inside, and which officials should bear responsibility," Ryzhkov said.

"It seems that the commission lacks the guts or the courage to pose the main questions," he said.