Skip to comments.Minister unwilling to blame Chechens
Posted on 09/08/2004 2:29:18 PM PDT by NPeery
Minister unwilling to blame Chechens
Jonathan Steele and agencies in Moscow Wednesday September 8, 2004
Not a single Chechen has been found among the dead gunmen who took children hostage in Beslan last week, Sergei Ivanov, Russia's defence minister, told the Guardian yesterday. "About half of the 32 terrorists have been identified and we have not yet discovered anyone from Chechnya," he said. The comment was a clear effort to back up the Kremlin's claim that last week's attack was not a result of Russia's actions in Chechnya.
The defence minister's remarks came as other statements from prosecutors carried on Russian television pinned the blame for the raid firmly on the Chechen rebel commander Shamil Basayev.
Mikhail Lapotnikov, a senior investigator in the North Caucasus prosecutors' office, said on Channel One television that investigators had established the assailants were "the core of Basayev's band" and had taken part in a June attack - also blamed on Mr Basayev - targeting police and security officials in neighbouring Ingushetia.
A man identified by authorities as a detained hostage taker said on state TV that he was told Mr Basayev and former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov were behind the attack.
The detainee, identified by a lawyer as Nur-Pashi Kulayev, said on both state-run channels that he and other members of the group were told the goal of the raid was "to unleash a war on the whole of the Caucasus" - the same thing Mr Putin had said was the attackers' aim.
Ahmed Zakayev, a London-based spokesman for Mr Maskhadov, denied that Mr Maskhadov had played any part, and alleged the detainee's televised statement had been extracted under torture.
"The claims of President Maskhadov's involvement in the terrorist act are part of a well thought-out disinformation campaign, which also includes officials' statements about the presence of Arab and African fighters and foreign mercenaries among the terrorists," he said in a statement faxed to media.
Mr Maskhadov, in a separate statement, said: There cannot be any justification for people who raise their hand against what is most sacred to us - the life of defenceless children! And there are no words able to express the full depth of our indignation at what happened."
Tens of thousands of Muscovites, waving flags and banners joined an official anti-terrorist protest in Red Square.
The crowd stood still for a moment of silence in memory of the Beslan siege victims, starting the rally after a clock in a Kremlin tower struck 5pm. Opposition politicians said the rally was intended to divert attention from the Kremlin's handling of the crisis and Mr Putin's failure to ensure security for ordinary Russians.
Demonstrators massed on the cobblestones outside St Basil's Cathedral brandishing banners with slogans such as "Russia against terror," "We won't give Russia to terrorists" and "The enemy will be crushed, victory will be ours."
"I have been crying for so many days and I came here to feel that we are actually together," said Vera Danilina, 57.
"We came here to show that we are not indifferent to the series of terrorist acts that have taken place," said Alexander, an 18-year-old student at a Moscow technical college.
The rally, organised by a pro-government trade union, was heavily advertised on state-controlled television, with prominent actors broadcasting appeals to citizens to turn out to say no to terror.
Meanwhile Beslan's streets were crowded with funeral processions yesterday. At the muddy cemetery gravediggers have opened up two new areas over the past three days.
In Vladikavkaz, the North Ossetian capital about 18 miles south of Beslan, hundreds of people gathered on central Freedom Square to protest against terrorism and to castigate local authorities for failing to prevent last week's tragedy.
The official death toll of the three-day siege stood at 335, plus 30 attackers. The emergencies ministry said 156 of the dead were children. Eleven special forces soldiers were killed, and some were buried yesterday in Moscow.
North Ossetia's deputy health minister, Taimuraz Revazov, said that 332 people remained in hospital yesterday, including 23 who had been sent to Moscow and 11 in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. At the morgue in Vladikavkaz, 110 bodies remained unidentified.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
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