Beslan Siege Investigation Chief Points Finger at Local Law- Enforcement Officers
Osborn, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)
After 15 months and more than 1,000 witness interviews, the chairman of the official inquiry into last year's Beslan school massacre broke his silence yesterday, launching a devastating critique of local law enforcement authorities.
In what he called his 'preliminary findings', Alexander Torshin, the head of Russia's parliamentary investigation into the events of 1-3 September 2004, confounded critics who have accused him of being soft on the authorities.
Though his criticism did not satisfy Beslan's bereaved mothers, it went further than anyone expected " and was especially damning when it came to local law enforcement officials in North Ossetia, the Russian republic of which Beslan is part.
Mr Torshin revealed that local police had been ordered to step up security around educational establishments two weeks before the tragedy but had done nothing. He made it clear he thought them guilty of 'negligence, incompetence and carelessness'.
Mr Torshin disclosed that, acting on intelligence that schools might be targeted by pro-Chechen militants, Russia's Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliyev, had sent a telegram to local police two weeks prior to the school seizure, as had his deputy. In the two telegrams the police were told to beef up security around all schools on 1 September, the first day of the school year. The warning was ignored and a solitary policewoman was on duty at Beslan's School No 1 when 1,128 children and parents were taken hostage by a group of about 30 gunmen. In the bloodshed that followed 331 innocents lost their lives, 186 of whom were children.
'There were warning telegrams ... on 21 August and 31 August 31,' Mr Torshin told the Russian parliament yesterday. 'These instructions could have averted a terrorist act or hindered it being carried out. However they were not fulfilled.'
He said the terrorists appeared better organised than the police: 'You can see how our police worked from the fact that the bandits had a plan of the school, while the police had to hunt for [a plan of the school] for a long time,' he said.
Nor did the terrorists even go to great lengths to conceal themselves. 'The camp where the rebels [prepared the attack] was only 70 metres from the road. We saw it. We were there. It was only 550 metres from a village, they did not hide themselves. …