- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2005

BESLAN, Russia — Police in Russia’s restive south ignored orders to increase security at schools — a directive that could have prevented a hostage crisis that left 331 persons dead last year, the head of a commission investigating the attack said yesterday.

When terrorists did seize the school, the operation to free the hostages was “plagued by shortcomings,” with police unprepared to deal with the crisis, lawmaker Alexander Torshin said, summing up the results of a parliamentary probe of the September 2004 assault.

The parliamentary report critical of local police sharply contrasted with conclusions from a separate investigation by prosecutors announced a day earlier. Prosecutors said Tuesday that their probe did not reveal any mistakes by authorities in dealing with the siege in the southern town of Beslan.

But the new conclusions brought no comfort to residents.

“They will lie again, and nobody will be held responsible for the dead children,” said Savkuz Dzhusov, who witnessed the events from his apartment.

More than half those killed were children. Most died in the climactic conclusion to the siege, when explosions tore through the school and security forces stormed the building.

Valiko Margiyev, who was held hostage along with his wife and 12-year-old daughter, was outraged at mention that 73 percent of the hostages had survived.

“The most horrible thing Torshin said is … that the operation was considered successful because only 27 percent of the hostages had been killed,” said Mr. Margiyev, whose daughter Elvira was killed.

Mr. Torshin, in announcing the report’s conclusions in Moscow, did not characterize the operation as a success, but Mr. Margiyev’s interpretation reflected the emotional pain and disdain in Beslan for authorities since the attack.

The parliamentary commission apparently has no direct authority to call officials to account or initiate prosecutions. But because parliament is dominated by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, the conclusions could be seen as having the tacit imprimatur of President Vladimir Putin.

The lawmaker also accused police and security officials in North Ossetia and the neighboring region of Ingushetia, from which the terrorists had launched their raid, of “negligence and carelessness.”

Individual police officers had failed to guard the school — despite specific orders from Interior Ministry chiefs — or find the rebels beforehand, he said.

On Sept. 1, 2004, only one police officer was posted outside the school, and she was taken hostage by raiders demanding that Russian troops withdraw from the nearby republic of Chechnya.

“You can see how our police worked from the fact that the bandits had a [floor] plan of the school, while the police had to hunt for [a floor plan of the school] for a long time,” Mr. Torshin said.

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