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Russia: Beslan Reports Compared

The Belsan school gym in 2006 (ITAR-TASS) January 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A Russian interparliamentary commission's final report on the September 2004 Beslan tragedy differs on a number of points from the conclusions of previous findings.

Deputy Federation Council Chairman Aleksandr Torshin, who headed the commission, announced the release of its 60,000-page report in late December 2006. The report had been delayed following the issuance in September 2006 of independent findings by Yury Savelyev , an explosives expert who participated in the interparliamentary investigation.

The results of a third investigation overseen by Stanislav Kesayev, the first deputy chairman of the North Ossetian parliament, were issued in 2005.

The latest report came just days before the Russian Supreme Court upheld a life sentence for Nurpashi Kulayev , who was convicted for his part in the bloody school siege that resulted in the deaths of more than 330 people, most of them children.

Hostage Takers

The number of hostage takers who carried out the deadly attack in the North Ossetian school is hotly contested. The official line had long been that 32 militants took part, of which one, Kulayev, survived to face trial.

Torshin's report adjusts that figure, but remains in sharp contrast to the numbers provided in Savelyev's and Kesayev's reports.

Savelyev Report:

-- says there were from 58 to 76 hostage takers, of which many managed to escape by slipping past the cordon around the school.

Kesayev Report:

-- estimates that about 50 militants took part in the siege, based on witness accounts and the number of weapons left at the scene.

Torshin Report:

-- determines that 34 militants were involved, of which 32 entered the school while two other "contact persons" mingled with the crowd outside.

-- says the two accomplices remain at large, one being Yunus Matsiyev, a bodyguard of deceased Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev.

-- finds that, aside from Kulayev, all of the militants who were in the school were killed.

-- cites witness accounts that the hostage takers repeatedly told them they "came here to die."

The Initial Blast(s)

The interparliamentary Beslan commission places the blame for the fiery conclusion to the three-day siege squarely on the hostage takers.

This differs from both Savelyev's and Kesayev's reports, which alleged that Russian special-services troops triggered the blast, leading to the storming of the school.

Savelyev Report:

-- devotes 280 pages to determining responsibility for the initial blast in the school gymnasium that held most of the hostages.

-- says two shots fired from outside the gymnasium initiated the finale -- one from a flamethrower, and one from a grenade launcher.

-- concludes that the authorities decided to storm the school building, but wanted to create the impression they were acting in response to actions taken by the hostage takers.

-- suggests that the Russian military may have suggested initiating the firefight.

Kesayev Report:

-- finds that the initial explosion was triggered when a shot fired from a federal forces sniper hit a militant who was standing on a detonator.

Kulayev Trial:

-- witnesses testified that the initial explosion was triggered by a grenade launcher or flamethrower fired from a nearby building.

-- the court ruling in Kulayev's case determined that the initial explosion was set off by the hostage takers.

Torshin Report:

-- insists that hostage takers accidentally set off the initial explosion.

-- says the hostage taking was planned as a suicide attack from the beginning.

-- in announcing the report to the Federation Council, Torshin said: "The main task of the law-enforcement agencies was to save people in the school. No storming of the building was prepared."

The Storming Of The School

One central question remains unanswered: Who is ultimately responsible for ordering that the school be stormed?
Kesayev Report:

-- asserts that the storming of the school was initiated following a command by federal forces.

Torshin Report:

-- mentions that President Vladimir Putin initially gave instructions to Russian security chiefs, but fails to mention his role further.

-- claims that no plan to storm the school was ever prepared by law-enforcement agencies.

-- says it was not a storming at all, but a spontaneous attack initiated by armed citizens outside the school who were then supported by special forces troops.

Military Hardware

The interparliamentary commission is at variance with the other two reports on the issue of whether and when military hardware was used during the crisis.

Savelyev Report:

-- asserts that tanks and flamethrowers fired on the school while hostages were still inside, resulting in some casualties.

Kesayev Report:

-- Kesayev, in commenting on the North Ossetian parliament's report, said: "As the head of the republican commission and as a person who was at the site of the tragedy, I continue to say that tanks began to shoot long before hostages left the building."

Torshin Report:

-- finds that armored vehicles shelled the school only after it was determined that no hostages remained inside. In announcing the release of the commission's report, Torshin mocked a witness account cited in the Kesayev report. He said that claims that a man had jumped onto the turret of a tank and struck the armor in an attempt to prevent it from firing on the school were impossible. "Had that really happened, this person would have immediately suffered intense shell-shock," Torshin said.

Coping With The Horror Of Beslan

Coping With The Horror Of Beslan

Alla Katsanty reflects on May 17, 2006, at the grave of her daughter, who was killed during the Beslan hostage taking (epa)

SURVIVING THE HORROR: More than 330 people died in the Beslan tragedy, more than half of them children. Before the bloody end of the standoff, victims endured three days of terror with almost no food, water, or medical attention. In the years since, victims, locals, Russia, and the world have all struggled to make sense of one of the most horrific events of modern times.

A video presentation on a UNESCO project to help survivors cope: Real Player, Windows Media.


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An archive of RFE/RL's coverage of Beslan and its aftermath.

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