Beslan inquiry accuses police of negligence

 

The head of the Russian parliamentary commission investigating last year's Beslan school siege today said the regional police department had ignored instructions to strengthen security around schools and accused officials of negligence.

Alexander Torshin was summing up the results of the inquiry so far in the upper house of parliament, while victims' families expressed outrage at a prosecutors' report that exonerated authorities in the deaths of 331 people - more than half of them children - in the hostage-taking.

Mr Torshin said Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and his deputy had sent telegrams less than two weeks before the militants' raid instructing the police department in North Ossetia, where Beslan is located, to beef up security on the first day of school.

"There was no information about the planning of terror attacks but there was a warning telegram ... on August 21st and 31st. In those telegrams, based on intelligence information, there was an order to the Interior Ministry branch in North Ossetia to strengthen protection of all educational facilities on September 1st. That could have prevented the terrorist attack. But they weren't fulfilled," Mr Torshin said.

"The counter-terrorist operation was plagued by shortcomings," and the current system for preventing terror attacks was inadequate, he added. "Many law enforcement officers did not know how to act in an emergency situation," he said.

Nearly 16 months have passed since armed Islamic militants seized more than 1,128 pupils, their teachers and parents in the southern Russian town of Beslan, provoking a tense three-day stand-off with security forces that ended in a bloodbath.

Mr Torshin accused police and security officials in North Ossetia and the neighbouring region of Ingushetia, from where the militants had launched their raid, of "negligence and carelessness" that allowed the attackers to take hostages.

He criticised local authorities for sharply underreporting the number of hostages involved. Survivors have said that the misinformation infuriated the militants.

With the release of the prosecutors' report and the results of the parliamentary probe - both only preliminary - the government's handling of the crisis has come under renewed scrutiny.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who ordered the Prosecutor General's office to investigate, initially resisted the establishment of an independent commission by the parliament.

An inquiryby the regional legislature accused Russian authorities of botching rescue efforts and urged officials be punished.