Home>News Center>World

Command failure seen at fault in Beslan massacre
Updated: 2004-09-07 08:54

Moscow - Security forces bungled the handling of Russia's worst hostage drama because nobody was in charge and special forces were not ready when the shooting started, security analysts said on Monday.

"It's clear that it was a total mess," leading military analyst Alexander Golts told Reuters. "They were not prepared."

Relatives mourn Sergei Dryukov, 29, a hostage killed in Russia's school siege, after his funeral in the town of Beslan, September 6, 2004. Flags flew at half-mast across Russia at the start of national mourning for 338 people killed when Chechen rebels seized a school, while questions mounted over President Vladimir Putin's policies.  [Reuters]

As the death toll from the battle that ended the siege in the North Ossetian town of Beslan rose above 330, Russia's media asked how the vaunted special forces had allowed a two-day standoff to turn into a bloodbath.

Authorities said they were forced to storm the school when the militants fired on hostages who were fleeing in the confusion following two explosions. With no security cordon to keep them back, armed local people pressed forward and were among the first to return fire.

Friends cry over the coffin of killed hostage 15-year-old Alana Katsanova during the funeral in the town of Beslan, September 6, 2004. The sound of weeping mothers who lost their children in the bloody end to Russia's school siege drifted out of the houses of Beslan on Sunday as relatives prepared to bury the first of 333 people killed. [Reuters]

Local troops -- unprepared and possibly short of ammunition -- suddenly found themselves assaulting the school, while special forces moved in only half an hour after the battle began, Golts said.

The newspaper Vremya Novostei said that when the fighting started, two special forces squads from the FSB security service were still discussing assault plans and had not even agreed on approach routes or where the defenders' firing points were.

It said the two squads, Alfa and Vympel -- equivalent to Britain's Special Air Service or the U.S. Delta Force -- suffered unprecedented casualties totaling 10 dead and up to 31 wounded.

Local residents look at the destroyed school gymnasum in Beslan, North Ossetia. [AFP]

Security expert Andrei Soldatov said on Ekho Moskvy radio that the battle began so suddenly that many of the special forces fought without bullet-proof vests.

But local troops were also too close to the school, keen to show the media the scene and avoid the accusations of a cover-up that plagued the Russian government in a previous hostage crisis, the capture of a Moscow theater in 2002, he said.

The disastrous handling of the siege earned a rebuke for the security forces from Russian President Vladimir Putin, himself a former agent in the KGB, the FSB's Soviet forerunner.

"We have to admit we showed no understanding of the danger of processes occurring in our own country and in the world at large," he said in a televised address on Saturday. "We failed to react appropriately to them and, instead, showed weakness."


But Golts said he believed that remarks by Putin earlier in the siege might have added to the confusion.

"It's totally my theory, but as far as I understand, when Putin said the school would not be stormed, the special forces stood down and were not prepared for a crucial change in the situation."

Western analysts said a key weakness was the lack of coordination between police, army, paramilitary and special forces each controlled by different ministries or the FSB.

"In a typical area you will probably have interior forces and FSB forces and there will be little coordination between them," said Petter Stalenheim of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

"Something must happen right at the top, to coordinate these structures better," said Alexander Rahr of the German Council on Foreign Relations. "There are too many of them...and they react in an uncoordinated way."

Rahr described the FSB as a closed, infexible "club" of officials with Soviet mindsets, struggling to adjust from Cold War espionage to fighting terrorism.

"The failings lie in the system, as Putin hinted, which has not been reformed -- or has been badly reformed and built up -- since the fall of the Soviet Union."

But any attempt by Putin to construct a "super-authority" would provoke accusations at home and abroad that he was recreating the KGB, Rahr added.

Among other problems, he pointed to the Russians' inability to infiltrate Chechen militant groups with informants, and the ability of militants to exploit official corruption.

"The problem, as ever in Russia, is in the unbelievable corruption. You can change the leadership of the FSB all you want, but these (insurgents) are fighting not only with weapons. When they infiltrate Russia they have cases or bags full of dollars and they 'buy' any policeman who stands in their way.

"As long as nothing is done on this level and those problems exist, Putin can reform all he wants at the top but it won't work at the lower level."

  Today's Top News     Top World News

China's new traffic law drives into hot dispute



Hong Kong celebrates with Olympic stars



Clinton has successful quadruple bypass



Campaign targets violators of IPR



Media urged to promote China-Japan ties



China invites bidding on nuclear power plants


  Israel hits Hamas training camp in Gaza, killing 13
  Command failure seen at fault in Beslan massacre
  US tanks pound rebel-held Iraqi town - witnesses
  Clinton has successful quadruple bypass
  Turkish hostage released in Iraq
  Powerful typhoon hits southern Japan
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  Related Stories  
Russia bombing death toll at 10
Putin wants security rethink after school siege
Russia mourns hostage killings, questions mount for Putin
Russians burying attack victims, 350 dead
  News Talk  
  Are the Republicans exploiting the memory of 9/11?