- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 11, 2004

MOSCOW — The Chechen terrorist attack on a school in southern Russia has produced a split in the rebel cause, Russian officials claimed yesterday.

In what was an apparent attempt to exploit the division, Russia announced earlier last week that it would pay $10 million for information leading to the arrest of the top Chechen rebel leaders, Shamil Basayev and Aslan Maskhadov.

Federal Security Service Maj. Gen. Ilya Shabalkin underlined yesterday that rebels were eligible for the reward.

Officials say Chechens were among the 11 Muslim attackers who have been identified, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday the hostage-taking was directed by Mr. Basayev — the most notorious of the warlords leading Chechen rebels who have been fighting Russian forces for five years.

Mr. Lavrov said Mr. Maskhadov, Chechnya’s president from 1996-99, also was linked to the hostage-taking.

The clarification about the reward by Gen. Shabalkin, a spokesman for the Russian forces’ Chechnya operations, appeared to be aimed at exploiting reported dissension in the fighters’ ranks over the takeover of Number 1 School in the North Ossetian city of Beslan.

The hostage-taking at the school ended Sept. 3 in a frenzy of shooting and explosions and the deaths of at least 330 people, half of them children. Subsequent news accounts said former hostages claimed some rebels argued with their leader once they found out they were to take children hostages.

Some accounts said the militants’ leader shot one of the dissidents and then detonated by remote control the bomb belts worn by two women militants.

“Information coming from various channels to law-enforcement organs shows that after the commission of the terrorist act in Beslan there is a tense situation and atmosphere of conflict between the fighters,” Gen. Shabalkin’s office said.

The Federal Security Service “is prepared to cooperate with anybody, among them members of illegal armed formations, without harming their personal security or restricting their right to the monetary reward,” the statement said.

Akhmed Zakayev, an envoy for the former Chechen President Maskhadov, was quoted in the German magazine Der Spiegel yesterday as saying both he and Mr. Maskhadov had offered to negotiate during the crisis and that Mr. Maskhadov’s followers had no connection with the warlord Mr. Basayev.

“This act has caused greater damage [to the Chechen separatist cause] than 10 years of the darkest anti-Chechen propaganda,” Mr. Zakayev was quoted as saying. The first Russian-Chechnya war started in 1994 and ended 20 months later with Russian forces withdrawing.

Mr. Zakayev lives in London, where he has been granted political asylum.

The Interfax news agency cited the Russian health ministry as saying 353 persons wounded in the hostage-taking remained hospitalized, including 216 children.

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