BESLAN, Russia – Russians rallied against terrorism Tuesday in response to a hostage-taking that claimed more than 350 lives, and President Vladimir Putin denied a link between Russia’s policies in Chechnya and the standoff in this southern city.
In an interview late Monday with foreign journalists and academics, Putin again rejected Western calls for negotiations with Chechen rebel representatives, Britain’s Guardian daily reported.
“Why don’t you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace?,” the Guardian quoted Putin as saying sarcastically.
“You find it possible to set some limitations in your dealings with these bastards, so why should we talk to people who are child-killers?”
Putin said foreigners should have “no more questions about our policy in Chechnya” after the attackers shot children in the back, and said the Chechen cause was aimed at undermining all of southern Russia and majority-Muslim regions of the country.
“This is all about Russia’s territorial integrity,” Putin was quoted as saying.
He also said his government would conduct an internal investigation but not a public one — warning that a parliamentary probe could turn into “a political show.” Two opposition politicians had called for an investigation, including into whether authorities had prior information about planned terrorist attacks, and what the government was doing to stabilize the situation in Chechnya.
In Vladikavkaz, the North Ossetian capital about 18 miles north of Beslan, hundreds of people gathered on central Freedom Square on Tuesday to protest against terrorism and to castigate local authorities for failing to prevent last week’s tragedy.
“Today we will bury our children and tomorrow we will come here and throw these devils out of their seats, from the lowest director up to ministers and the president,” said one of the speakers, who refused to identify himself to reporters.
“Corrupt authority is a source of terrorism,” said a poster held above in the crowd. Along with thin wax candles, which they lit and placed along the square, protesters distributed fliers calling for North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov to step down.
Russian state television broadcast footage of anti-terrorist marches and memorials held around the world after the Beslan tragedy, and summoned people to an anti-terrorist protest to be held Tuesday afternoon on Moscow’s Red Square.
Militants seized the school at Beslan on Sept. 1, a day after a suicide bombing in Moscow killed 10 people and just over a week after two Russian passenger planes exploded and crashed, killing all 90 people aboard — two attacks authorities suspect were linked to Russia’s war in Chechnya.
A prosecutor said the militants belonged to a group led by radical Chechen rebel Shamil Basayev. A man identified by authorities as a detained hostage-taker said on state TV that he was told Basayev and separatist former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov were behind the attack.
Mikhail Lapotnikov, a senior investigator in the North Caucasus prosecutors’ office, said on Channel One television that investigators had established the assailants were “the core of Basayev’s band” and had taken part in a June attack — also blamed on Basayev — targeting police and security officials in neighboring Ingushetia.
The detainee, identified by a lawyer as Nur-Pashi Kulayev, said on both state-run channels that he and other members of the group were told the goal of the raid was “to unleash a war on the whole of the Caucasus” — the same thing Putin said was the attackers’ aim.
On Sunday, Channel One showed the detainee looking frightened as he was manhandled by masked law enforcement officers and swearing to Allah that he didn’t shoot women and children.
After the siege ended Friday, Russian news agencies cited unidentified security sources as saying that the planners of the raid were believed to have scouted at least two schools in Beslan.
Judging by everything, they felt the better one for their goals was the main building of School No. 1 with its half-basement gymnasium annex, where the floor had to be replaced,” the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted a law-enforcement official as saying.
“The bandits were able to bring into the school a large quantity of weapons, ammunition, equipment and explosives, under the guise of planks, cement and other building material, enough to defend the seized place for a long period,” the official said, according to the report.
Hostages also spoke in news accounts of a huge quantity of explosives in the school — not only the suicide belts worn by some of the raiders but also bombs hung from basketball hoops.