Report: Beslan HQ Was Run by Others
Published: April 19, 2005 (Issue # 1062)
MOSCOW - Public anger over the handling of last year's Beslan hostage-taking crisis might have been directed at the wrong officials, according to an investigative report published by Novaya Gazeta on Thursday.
The men officially responsible for the botched attempt to rescue hostages - North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov and the head of the republic's branch of the Federal Security Service, Valery Andreyev - were not really in charge, as there was an alternative headquarters set up by senior federal officials to run operations on the ground, the newspaper said.
Citing what it said were official transcripts of investigators' interviews with Dzasokhov, the paper said that in reality it was senior FSB commanders and Kremlin officials who ran the anti-terrorist operation from a third-floor office in Beslan's town hall.
Even some members of the official headquarters - set up to handle the crisis and commanded by Andreyev -were denied access to this shadow task force's war room, the paper said.
Most of the more than 330 hostages who died in the attack on Beslan's School No. 1 died in the intense shootout and fire on the afternoon of Sept. 3, after the authorities said a bomb planted by terrorists had exploded.
The paper published abridged versions of investigators' interviews with Andreyev and Dzasokhov along with the story Thursday, taken from what it said were official transcripts.
Both officials were interviewed by investigators from the North Caucasus branch of the Prosecutor General's Office. Novaya Gazeta reporter Yelena Milashina, who has written extensively from Beslan, said Thursday that she had received copies of the interview protocols sent anonymously by regular mail. She said she believed the documents to be authentic.
An official at the North Caucasus branch of the Prosecutor General's Office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the protocols published by the paper looked "90 percent genuine." In his interview Dzasokhov - who assumed command of the rescue operation in the first hours of the hostage crisis on Sept. 1 - said that deputy FSB directors Vladimir Pronichev and Vladimir Anisimov were directing the anti-terrorist headquarters alongside him.
At noon on the second day of the crisis, Sept. 2, Pronichev showed Dzasokhov a decree signed by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov appointing Andreyev head of the operation's headquarters, Dzasokhov said.
But in his interview, Andreyev said that Pronichev had shown him Fradkov's decree putting him in charge only at 2:45 p.m. that day - nearly three hours after Dzasokhov said he had been shown the order. In his account of events, Andreyev named several officials present at the official headquarters, but not Pronichev or Anisimov.
For weeks after the Beslan tragedy, it remained unclear who headed the headquarters set up to deal with the crisis.
Several Russian newspapers reported that Andreyev had been in charge, but speculation persisted that he could have been a figurehead picked to shield the real decision-makers from public scrutiny, and anger if the rescue operation went awry.
Later in September, the Gazeta daily was first to report that Pronichev - who had handled the Dubrovka theater siege in Moscow in October 2002 - was in charge in Beslan.
Andreyev was removed from his post shortly after the Beslan tragedy, while Dzasokhov faced several days of angry public protests in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz.
But in a possible sign that Andreyev's superiors were not unhappy with his performance, he was not fired by the FSB and reportedly remained on active service.
One witness at the Beslan headquarters during the crisis, State Duma Deputy Mikhail Markelov, said by telephone Thursday that Andreyev had never been in charge there. He refused to say who the real operation chief was, citing an affidavit he had signed pledging not to disclose information about events in Beslan until the security forces' investigation was over.