'Stubbornness' of security forces led to unnecessary deaths at Beslan

Russian officials leading one of three inquiries into last year's Beslan school siege wrapped up their work by accusing the military, police and security service who handled the crisis of being directly responsible for the deaths of at least 20 hostages.

The inquiry, conducted by the regional North Ossetian parliament, where Beslan is located, was the first of three to be completed and comes 15 months after the tragedy itself. Its conclusions are regarded as being particularly sensitive since they come from local politicians, some of whom had children in the school.

The siege, which unfolded between 1 and 3 September last year, culminated in the death of 331 people, 186 of whom were children.

Yesterday's report said the authorities had lied about the number of hostages being held by the pro-Chechen terrorists, which led directly to the deaths of about 20 male hostages. They were murderedas the hostage-takers vented their anger over the claim, which they picked up on local media. The authorities told the world that the figure was just 346; the real figure was almost 1,200.

"Members of the [crisis] group roughly knew the number of hostages being held after their first contact with the terrorists," the report stated. "They knew but didn't name the real figure. More than likely, a consequence of their inexplicable stubbornness was the execution of two dozen hostages whose bodies were thrown from the first floor."

The panel accused the authorities of manifest "failings". Stanislav Kesayev, the inquiry's chairman, concluded: "There is no doubt that the seizure of the Beslan school was first and foremost the fault of law-enforcement bodies."

A federal inquiry is due to end next month, while the criminal investigation will be completed by March.

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