Hostage-taker says notorious warlord ordered attack on school

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One of the captured militants has testified on television that orders to attack the school came from the separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov and the warlord Shamil Basayev.

Testimony from the man, who has not been identified, was broadcast on the government's Rossiya television channel. He said: "We were gathered in the forest, by a man nicknamed Polkovnik [the Colonel], and they said: we must take over a school in Beslan. This assignment, they told us, Maskhadov and Basayev gave the assignment.

"We asked the Colonel, 'Why do this, what's the purpose? He said, 'Because we need to unleash war throughout the Caucasus'."

A lawyer for one of the hostage-takers said that some of the gang may have been unaware of the mission that awaited them and may not have known the plan was to seize children.

Three hostage-takers are reported to have been captured when Russian special forces stormed the school. One, identified as Nur-Pashi Kulayev, was shown on Russian television on Sunday saying that he did not want to kill children.

Umar Sikoyev, a lawyer for Mr Kulayev, said the hostage-takers' leader did not tell them what their mission was and that the group argued fiercely after the seizure. Several are said to have objected to taking children. According to Mr Sikoyev, the attackers' commander killed the dissidents' leader and then detonated the suicide belts worn by two women raiders by remote control to quash any further mutiny.

Three days after the end of the siege, the total number of hostage-takers is still not known, and their identities remain clouded in mystery. Thirty of them are said to have been killed.

The Russian authorities were quick to announce that 10 Arabs were among the captors, which would back President Vladimir Putin's desire to convince a sceptical world that the attackers were linked to al-Qa'ida and international terrorism, but no hard evidence has been put forward to support that.