Beslan police 'ignored security warnings'

INSTRUCTIONS to strengthen school security were ignored by police in the weeks before the Beslan school massacre, the head of a Russian parliamentary commission investigating last year's siege said yesterday.

Alexander Torshin accused local law enforcement officials of negligence as he summed up the results of the inquiry so far to members from both chambers of the Russian parliament.

Mr Torshin said that investigators would later evaluate the role federal authorities played in the crisis that led to the deaths of 331 people - 186 of them children.

He said Rashid Nurgaliyev, the Russian interior minister, 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 step up security on the first day of school.

However, on 1 September, 2004, only a single policewoman was posted outside the Beslan school, and she was taken hostage.

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

Mr Torshin added that the counter-terrorist operation was "plagued by shortcomings" and the current system in place for preventing terror attacks was inadequate.

Nearly 16 months have passed since armed Islamic militants seized 1,128 pupils, teachers and parents in the southern Russian town of Beslan, provoking a three-day stand-off that ended in a bloodbath when security forces raided the school. On the first two days of the crisis, officials said only 354 people had been taken hostage.

Mr Torshin said the decision to report the lower number was taken by Valery Andreyev, the local head of the Federal Security Service who has since been reassigned to the agency's reserves. Mr Torshin also blamed Mr Andreyev, who had headed the crisis headquarters in Beslan, for poor co-ordination between law enforcement authorities.

He accused police and security officials in North Ossetia and neighbouring Ingushetia, from where the militants had launched their raid, of "negligence and carelessness".

However, Liberal politician Vladimir Ryzhkov said the report did not focus on the federal authorities' role. "It is an attempt to put the blame on regional and local law enforcers and not on the leaders of federal ministries, who in my view bear responsibility for what happened - they didn't take preventive measures, they didn't check how their orders were being carried out," Mr Ryzhkov said.

Susanna Dudiyeva, the head of the Beslan Mothers' Committee, said "the most painful questions are left unanswered" by the report.

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