Chechen warlord admits he set up Beslan school siege

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The Independent Online

Russia's most wanted man, the Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, claimed responsibility for the Beslan school siege yesterday, boasting that it had cost him only €8,000 (£5,500) to carry out.

Russia's most wanted man, the Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, claimed responsibility for the Beslan school siege yesterday, boasting that it had cost him only €8,000 (£5,500) to carry out.

In a lengthy statement carried by a Chechen rebel website, Basayev said he had also masterminded the suicide bombings of two Russian passenger planes in August and the bombing of a Moscow metro station a week later.

His admission coincided with unusually strong remarks from President Vladimir Putin, who accused the West of indulging terrorists and likened its calls to negotiate with Chechen separatists to the appeasement of Hitler in 1938.

Basayev himself contradicted the Russian version of the Beslan massacre, blaming Mr Putin for the fact that more than 320 people died when the siege erupted into a fierce firefight.

He wrote: "A terrible tragedy occurred in the city of Beslan; the Kremlin vampire destroyed and wounded 1,000 children and adults, giving the order to storm the school for the sake of imperial ambitions and the preservation of his own throne."

The Kremlin says that Russian forces had not been planning to storm the school and were only drawn into a battle after the terrorists detonated explosives, possibly accidentally, and children began to flee.

Basayev insisted yesterday that the Kremlin was lying and had stormed the school. He even offered to co-operate with Russian investigators to prove as much, and demanded that the UN and the EU conduct independent inquiries. "Putin is trying to pin all this on us in the most impudent fashion, labelling us international terrorists and asking the whole world to help. We regret what happened in Beslan."

Basayev went on to disclose details of the Beslan operation, which he nicknamed "Nord-West"; a label inspired by the Moscow Nord-Ost theatre siege in October 2002, which he also claimed to have organised.

He said a 33-strong martyrs' brigade, under the command of a man he called Colonel Orstkhoev, had occupied the school on his orders and that he had personally trained the fighters for 10 days in a forest about 12 miles from Beslan. The group included 12 Chechen men, he said, two Chechen female suicide bombers and nine Ingush men, as well as three Russian men, two Ossetians and two Arabs among others.

Basayev boasted that the entire operation had cost him €8,000 and that all of the weapons and transport had been stolen from Russian forces.

He hinted that many of the dead had been shot by trigger-happy locals and not his fighters.

He added that the suicide bombing of the two airliners had cost him $4,000 while the Moscow metro bombing and a bus-stop bomb had set him back $7,000.

Denying claims that he had links to Osama bin Laden, he insisted that he did not know him personally and did not receive any funding from him, but would not refuse if it was ever offered. He said the hostage-takers' demands boiled down to the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. The hostages were to receive food and water at different stages of compliance.

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