Some Beslan terrorists left siege to plan escape route, says Russia

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The Independent Online

Some of the hostage-takers who seized School Number One in Beslan on 1 September were not willing to die like their apparently fanatical leaders and crept out of the school to plan an escape route, Russia's Defence Minister said yesterday.

Some of the hostage-takers who seized School Number One in Beslan on 1 September were not willing to die like their apparently fanatical leaders and crept out of the school to plan an escape route, Russia's Defence Minister said yesterday.

Sergey Ivanov said that some of the rebel fighters had left the school before the violent end to the siege and had moved around Beslan among the soldiers and the relatives of their hostages.

"Not all of them were suicide attackers," he told Russia's NTV yesterday. "In the first night after the seizure ... some of the terrorists left the school to explore possible ways of retreat."

The claims fit in with the Kremlin's version of events which has it that a rift opened up among the terrorists with some wanting to flee and others determined to fight to the death. One of the hostage-takers was apparently shot and two female suicide bombers blown up by the gang's leader, who was adamant that they should fight "to the last bullet".

Meanwhile the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has sacked North Ossetia's Interior Minister, Kazbek Dzantiev, for the appalling way in which the siege was handled.

Mr Ivanov said yesterday that Washington and Moscow had a common vision when it came to fighting terrorism and defended Russia's right to launch pre-emptive strikes on terrorists and terror facilities anywhere in the world. Mr Ivanov said he had spoken to US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, twice last week and that he felt the US understood Russia's terrorist problem far better than most.

"I attribute this to the fact that the Americans and the US military have a better understanding of the seriousness of this threat since the United States and we have both been targeted in powerful terror attacks," he said.

Mr Ivanov said Russia had every right to resort to pre-emptive strikes against terrorists and would use any means at its disposal bar nuclear weapons.

"They have declared a war on us, we have come under attack, so all means are permissible in a war. We wouldn't tell anyone in advance how such pre-emptive strikes would be conducted ... and we aren't going to warn anyone either."

Mr Ivanov did not say where Russia would strike, but in the past Moscow has accused the former Soviet republic of Georgia of sheltering Chechen terrorists.

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