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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shepel Extends Beslan Investigation to Dec. 1

An investigation by prosecutors into last September's Beslan school hostage-taking will continue until December, Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel said Friday.

Shepel said he had informed victims' relatives and the Beslan Mothers' Committee of the decision. Shepel has been leading an inquiry that many Beslan residents accuse of hiding the facts.

"I have extended the investigation until Dec. 1," Shepel said, Interfax reported.

Six federal prosecutors arrived in Beslan last Monday, after President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with the mothers' committee in Moscow a few days earlier and ordered a parallel investigation. Putin promised the representatives that he would try to deal with their grievances.

Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov, who is heading the parallel investigation, said the probe could take one to three months.

Relatives of those who died in the Sept. 1-3 attack have accused authorities of mounting a cover-up, saying that the armed militants who seized more than 1,100 hostages at School No. 1 must have had help from corrupt officials to cross heavily policed territory.

Relatives are also deeply critical of the botched rescue operation, saying hostages died needlessly because special forces used flame throwers and tanks against the militants.

The leader of North Ossetia, the Caucasus region where the attack took place, praised the work of the newly arrived investigators.

"With the involvement of the Russian president, the investigation has taken on a new impetus," Taimuraz Mamsurov said, Itar-Tass reported.

"Dozens of victims from Beslan have been able to say what they have not been given the chance to over the past year," he said in televised remarks.

Shepel has insisted that flame throwers were not fired directly at the school's gymnasium, where the hostages were held, and that there was no tank fire until all surviving hostages had been rescued.

He said Friday that he had reversed an earlier decision to drop a criminal probe for negligence against local officials in the hostage crisis unit, including the former regional head of the Federal Security Service, Itar-Tass reported.

He also said experts would examine how the flame throwers were used.

Most of the 331 victims died on Sept. 3 in a hail of bullets, explosions and a raging fire that broke out in the gymnasium after a still-unexplained blast prompted security forces to launch an assault. More than half of those killed were children.

Two other investigations are being conducted by the regional legislature and the national parliament.