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September 02, 2006

Could Beslan Attack Have Been Avoided? -- Michael

Beslan Bodies.jpg

By Fred Weir, Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor Fri Sep 1, 4:00 AM ET

MOSCOW - The hard, bitter questions just won't stop coming.

Two years after the terrorist attack on a Beslan school that killed 332 people, including 186 children, a majority of Russians say they don't believe their government is telling the truth about the tragedy.

An independent investigation published this week will heap fuel on the flames of public doubt by challenging key points in the official version of what happened during the three violent September days that are often referred to as "Russia's 9/11."

The remarkable thing is that any of this is even being publicly aired in Russia. Not so long ago, the official cover-up would have been automatic and effective, especially given the seriousness of the charges.

That account has long been challenged by a group of bereaved Beslan mothers. The group believes that corrupt officials allowed the terrorists to store weapons and explosives in the school in the weeks preceding the attack, and enabled many of them to escape amid the confusion of the final gun battle.

Even worse is the accusation that police in Chechnya knew of the attack in advance, and did nothing.

Savelyev's report, which includes hundreds of pages of testimony from witnesses, photos, videos, and expert opinion, cites evidence that police in the neighboring republic of Chechnya had several hours notice of the pending attack, but failed to notify their counterparts in Beslan's North Ossetia republic. Savelyev this week told the radio station Ekho Moskvi that evidence shows a Russian RPO-A flame-thrower triggered the final, deadly gun battle.

"I came to the conclusion that those homemade explosive devices installed by the rebels did not explode at all," Savelyev said. "(The blasts came from) explosive devices delivered from outside."

Citing witnesses, Savelyev says at least 60 of the militants were inside the school during the siege, about half of whom escaped. Like other critics, the Savelyev report is scathing on the authorities' overall lack of readiness to handle the crisis. When the school burst into flames, the report says, no firetrucks were on hand, then arrived later woefully ill equipped.

Other members of the Duma commission have slammed Savelyev for publishing his report on the eve of the politically-delicate Beslan anniversary. Commission head Alexander Torshin derided Savelyev's report this week as "speculation."

CSM -- Russian forces faulted in Beslan school tragedy

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