MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia must hunt down and arrest militant groups — at home and abroad — before they can commit any more acts of terror like the Beslan school massacre, President Vladimir Putin says.
Rebels opposed to Moscow’s rule over the southern republic of Chechnya were behind the hostage siege in Beslan which killed 330 people, half of them children, but many people also believe failures by Russia’s security forces played a part.
“A whole series of terrorist acts organised and executed last year by international criminal groups showed the need for a radical restructuring of state security activity,” Putin told a gathering of state prosecutors on Friday.
“Today we need not just to act against terrorist acts themselves but also to do analytical work, to keep a step ahead, to identify in advance where potential conflict situations might spring up,” he said in televised remarks.
Putin also took a swipe at prosecutors for failing to get Chechen rebel leaders living in exile in Western countries extradited to stand trial at home.
Prosecutors must “take pain-staking care with criminal prosecutions of people involved in terrorist acts and their preparation, including those who are abroad,” Putin said.
Russia’s 10-year-old war with separatist rebels in Chechnya has spilled over into an escalating series of bombings, suicide attacks on passenger jets and hostage seizures that culminated in the Beslan bloodbath in September.
The Kremlin says many in Chechnya’s rebel leadership are plotting violent attacks from exile, and has made bringing them home for trial a priority.
But a British court in 2003 threw out a request from Russian prosecutors to extradite exiled rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev on terrorism charges. The judge said the evidence against Zakayev was unreliable and probably obtained through torture.
Last year, a court in Qatar jailed two Russian spies for assassinating another Chechen leader, in exile in the Gulf state. The two have since been handed back to Russia.
Putin first said Russia’s internal security system needed a radical overhaul after the Beslan massacre, but four months later has yet to disclose any details of the reform.
Incompetence and corruption inside Russia’s security services has been widespread for years, but failures in Beslan put them under the spotlight.
More than a dozen hostage-takers, armed with automatic weapons, grenades and home-made bombs, are alleged to have bribed their way through police checkpoints to the school where they drew on a hidden cache of arms and explosives.
Three policemen from the region are being prosecuted, but so far no senior officials. Victims’ relatives protested near Beslan on Friday against what they said was a cover-up.
Prosecutor-general Vladimir Ustinov, speaking at the gathering of prosecutors, said corrupt policemen were only a reflection of a broader social malaise.
“When every day brings new reports of bribe-taking by a bureaucrat … a policeman cannot be anything other than a direct product of a society which has lost its concept of sin and conscience,” he said.