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Official: Beslan Rescue Flawed

The head of the Russian parliamentary commission investigating last year's Beslan school siege said Wednesday that the operation to free hostages was riddled by "miscalculations and shortcomings," the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

Alexander Torshin was summing up the results of the probe so far in the upper house of parliament, while victims' families expressed outrage at a prosecutors' report that exonerated the authorities over the deaths of 331 people in the terrifying hostage-taking.

He said that Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and his deputy had sent telegrams less than two weeks before the militants' raid instructing the regional police department in North Ossetia, where Beslan is located, to beef up security on the first day of school.

"These instructions could have prevented the terrorist act or interfered with its being carried out, but they were not followed," he was quoted as saying.

Nearly 16 months have passed since armed Islamic militants seized more than 1,100 pupils, their teachers and parents in the southern Russian town of Beslan, provoking a tense three-day standoff with security forces that ended in a bloodbath.

Torshin criticized authorities' failure to report truthfully on the number of hostages involved, 1,128 instead of the 354 they announced early in the siege, as well as the weak coordination between law enforcement agencies.

"The list of miscalculations and shortcomings could be continued," he told lawmakers, according to RIA-Novosti.

Russian prosecutors found no mistakes in the authorities' handling of the Beslan school siege in southern Russia, the official leading the probe said Tuesday. A total of 331 people died in the tragedy, and relatives of the victims responded in anger at the findings.

Most of the victims — including 186 children — died in explosions and gunfire that ended the three-day drama.

Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel said in comments released by his office that a reconstruction of the events of the September 2004 raid had established that police and other security forces involved in the rescue operation did not bear any blame for the ensuing tragedy.

The prosecutors' conclusions sharply differ from those of an earlier probe by a regional legislative panel that blamed authorities for botching rescue efforts and urged that those responsible be punished.

Militants attacked School No. 1 on Sept. 1, 2004 — the first day of school — taking more than 1,100 children, parents and staff hostage and herding them into the gymnasium, which they rigged with explosives.


On the third day of the siege there was an explosion. No one yet knows why. And then there was chaos, reports CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar.

The rebels, who were demanding that Russian troops withdraw from the nearby breakaway province of Chechnya, crossed heavily policed territory to reach the school, and victims' relatives are convinced they received help from corrupt officials.

The hostages' families have also been deeply critical of the flawed rescue operation, saying hostages died needlessly because special forces used flame-throwers, grenade launchers and tanks against the militants.

But Shepel said the security forces and rescue personnel had all acted appropriately.

"According to the conclusions of the investigation, the expert commission did not find ... any violations that could be responsible for the harmful consequences that resulted from the terrorist act in Beslan," the prosecutor said.

However, Shepel added that the experts had concluded that the system for preventing terrorist acts in Russia did not provide sufficient protection for the country's population.

Dudiyeva called for top officials involved in the rescue operation to be punished.

"You need to punish those who did not carry out their duties properly. Our children are no longer with us," she said.

There was such anger against the Kremlin that Russian President Vladimir Putin was told not to come to Beslan for the one-year anniversary memorial, reports

.

There are three Russian investigations into the hostage-taking — one already completed by the regional parliament, and two ongoing by the Prosecutor General's office and the national parliament.

"I don't believe they will find the truth and punish those truly responsible," Elbrus Varziev told CBS News last September.

Russia's southern regions have increasingly been plagued by violence, some of it stemming from criminal gang feuds, some spilling over from the separatist conflict in Chechnya.

On Tuesday three policemen were wounded in a shootout with suspected rebels they were trying to apprehend in the southern Russian district of Dagestan, near the Chechen border.

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