Kesayev Report Points a Finger in Beslan
Published: December 9, 2005 (Issue # 1129)
Last week, the results of a North Ossetian parliamentary investigation into the terrorist attack in Beslan were made public. The report went largely unnoticed. The pro-government media shied away from a number of awkward conclusions, while the opposition was dissatisfied with the level of invective directed at the government of President Vladimir Putin.
There is no question that the parliamentary commission, headed by Stanislav Kesayev, deputy speaker of the North Ossetian legislature, came under enormous pressure. A good deal was also clearly cut out of the report in order to preserve the main point — to determine who and what caused the first explosion in the school gymnasium, after which government troops stormed the school.
Three scenarios were in circulation before the report came out. The first, advanced by the prosecutors, held that the terrorists set off the bomb. The second version was offered by Nurpashi Kulayev, the lone suspected terrorist in federal custody: The explosion occurred after a sniper took out the terrorist who had his foot on the detonator. This is also what terrorist ringleader Ruslan Khuchbarov told authorities by telephone immediately after the explosion. According to the third version, the terrorists designated one man to blow everything up if things went wrong. This version says that on Sept. 3, 2004, at 1:03 p.m., that’s exactly what he did.
None of these versions was ever substantiated. Khuchbarov’s statement doesn’t count for much. That’s exactly what you would expect him to say in the heat of the moment even if he had detonated the bomb himself. As for the sniper, there was no place for him to hide. In order to get a clean shot he would have been exposed in an open area with no cover apart from a small outbuilding.
More importantly, none of these versions explains why only a single bomb went off. If the bombs were wired together, they should all have gone off at once. The Kesayev report concluded that there were three explosions, not one: two small explosions at 1:03 p.m. and 1:05 p.m., followed by a large blast — the actual bomb — at 1:29 p.m.
So what exploded at 1:03 p.m. and 1:05 p.m.? Something blew a hole in the ceiling, through which the hostages “saw the sky.” A column of dust and smoke can be seen on video footage rising to a height of some 15 meters above the roof, indicating an explosion on the roof itself, not inside the gym. The sound of a grenade launcher firing can be heard on audiotape. A second shot quickly followed, blowing a hole in the north wall of the gym. Hostages then began to jump through the windows and the shooting started. Only 26 minutes after the rooftop explosion did the terrorists’ bomb go off.
The report also questioned the role of two deputies to Federal Security Service director Nikolai Patrushev in the counterterrorist operation. The commission had been able to establish what all of the command centers in Beslan had been up to during the siege, with one exception: the team led by Vladimir Pronichev and Vladimir Anisimov.
The upshot is that one of the command centers in Beslan set out to eliminate the terrorists, not to free the hostages. For this group, it would have been very convenient if the hostages were removed from the equation. Troops could then move in and wipe out the bad guys, and civilian deaths could be blamed on a miscue by the terrorists.
The simplest way to accomplish this would be to set off the terrorists’ own bomb. But here they ran into a little problem: The snipers couldn’t get a clear shot at the terrorist with his foot on the detonator.
This problem was resolved with the help of a grenade launcher. Did the feds have the plans for the school? Yes. Did the plans indicate where the basketball hoop was attached to the wall? Yes. Did they know the bomb was hung up in the hoop? Yes.
The snipers needed a clear shot. A soldier with a grenade launcher could fire from the roof of any nearby apartment building.
Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.