With the intermediary "Novaya Gazeta", residents of Beslan passed shells of flame throwers “Shmel” and fragments of sleeves from shells to the Office of Public Prosecutor and Senator Bugulov

After long and adamant requests of the Beslan residents to pass material evidence discovered after the storm to the parliamentary commission (tubes from flame thrower RPO (A, Z, D) (The tube from a flame thrower found and handed over to the Office of Public Prosecutor was issued in the report by specifically such a name. Although the marks on the presented tube unmistakably testify that it was RPO-A (thermobarometric). We are not claiming that the investigation made this mistake in the report consciously. Read our article and the opinion of the expert. - ed.) – "Shmel", a grenade gun RPG-26, three socular parts from sleeves of tank missiles), the commission at last has appointed Northern Ossetian senator Eric Bugulov for performance of this delicate mission.

But Eric Ruslanovich did not risk taking on this responsibility entirely on his own.

On Monday April 4th, an impressive delegation arrived to Beslan: assistant to the general public prosecutor of Southern federal district Nikolay Shepel, head of investigatory group of the terrorist act Konstantin Krivorotov, head of the press-service of management of the State Office of Public Prosecutor of the Northern Caucasus Sergey Prokopov, and others.

The arrangement with the commission was completely different.

Reminder: the topic of the use of heavy weapons - tanks and flame throwers - arose right after the terrorist act in Beslan. Beslan residents were the first to talk about flame throwers, then "Vesti Nedeli" on a Central Russian TV channel reported that special task forces were attacking terrorists with "Shmels". Then "Novaya Gazeta" managed to find photos of three tubes from flame throwers "Shmel" on the roof of building #37 on Shkolnyi pereulok. This is when a theory was born that the shots from flame throwers caused the fire and the crashing of the roof of the gym onto the wounded, but still living hostages.

During Novaya Gazeta’s investigation there was a question on the legitimacy of using such a weapon to clear hostages; Beslan residents accused the soldiers and special task forces of killing their relatives.

Later the Public Prosecutor entered the game. At a meeting with the Beslan residents, Nikolay Shepel stated that flame throwers were used by the insurgents. The people did not believe him; they understood perfectly that one cannot use flame throwers inside. Besides, shells of flame throwers were found on the roof of building #37, and, according to the testimonies from the tenants, it was special task forces and not the insurgents who were sitting there (before storming the school and evacuating tenants from the apartments, members of special task forces introduced themselves while wearing uniforms and even showed ID’s).

At this moment, Beslan residents grew wary of the Public Prosecutor. Their mistrust was intensified by the intermediate results of the parliamentary investigation of the terrorist act. Senator Oleg Panteleev (he found the tubes on the roof of building #37) and senator Valery Fedorov confirmed the presence of "Shmels" on the record. But senator Fedorov in an interview with Novaya Gazeta stated that the model numbers of flame throwers were “copied incorrectly” and at the moment (December 2004) it would be impossible to find out which military unit the flame throwers were registered with, who shot them and who gave the order to use them.

Beslan residents were alarmed with this course of events. Their suspicions that the Public Prosecutor was not leading a comprehensive investigation grew. They decided to help the investigation by passing the shells from flame throwers and grenade guns found after the storm near building 41 on Shkolnyi Pereulok, and socles from shells of tank missiles found on Ulitsa Kominterna, to the parliamentary commission (!) in the presence of Novaya Gazeta journalists and regional administration. Some families saved these "souvenirs". People expected that at least these model numbers would not be “copied incorrectly".

With the request to accept the material evidence from the Beslan residents, Novaya Gazeta addressed Alexander Torshin, head of the parliamentary commission. One can’t say that this request - to actively participate in the investigation of extremely important circumstances of the death of hostages – provoked an instant response from Mr. Torshin and his commission. With a nudge from his commission, Novaya Gazeta was requested to come in for an interrogation at the Office of Public Prosecutor. They demanded that Novaya Gazeta release “names, passwords, places of secret meetings", but we have referred to the law of mass-media and kept silent. Then for two months members of the parliamentary commission conducted telephone conversations with Novaya Gazeta correspondents, the essence of which was: do not intervene with all your journalistic investigations and thus keep the commission from doing its job.

At last after long discussions, they came to a consensus, more precisely, they decided on appointing Eric Bugulov. In these agreements reached with such difficulty (Novaya Gazeta acted as a mediator between the parliamentary commission and residents of Beslan), Bugulov announced the date for acceptance of the material evidence. With the assistance of senators the transfer of material evidence to the investigation went quite successfully, for which we thank them. However, during "investigatory action" it was discovered that the Office of Public Prosecutor already knew for a long time, who and why used flame throwers on the school where, according to official figures, there were 32 terrorists and 1200 hostages.

The journalists were asked to leave the modest office of the Public Prosecutor and not to disrupt “investigatory action”.

- We agreed that the transfer of material evidence will be public, - we reminded Mr. Prokopov.

- I do not know what you mean by “public”, but the procedural law does not involve publicity, since investigatory action is not a show.

- A real show is when material evidence is throw out and numbers of flame throwers are recorded incorrectly, - a representative of initiative group Sasha Gumetsev said quietly.

- We should decide on who should leave the room and who should stay, since time is running out. - Eric Bugulov said diplomatically.

- You’re preventing us from doing our job, -- said head of press-service Prokopov to the journalists. - The initiative group can stay.

- Your behavior makes people mistrust you, the journalists said to the public prosecutors.

-You mistrust everything and everyone, - Mr. Prokopov answered aggrievedly.

- And the behavior of the Public Prosecutor causes mistrust in other people, - Sasha Gumetsev supported the journalists.

- People’s bias can be changed. In this case the journalists are indoctrinating you.

- Nobody is trying to indoctrinate us! – Sasha Gumetsev said angrily. – Can anybody indoctrinate me, after I have found my dead daughter’s things on a garbage dump?!

- Ok, let’s allow one writing correspondent and one photographer to stay, - Erik Bugulov offered a compromise.

… When all unnecessary people (from the public prosecutors’ point of view) left the room, they began cross-examining Ruslan Tebiev, who found and saved the material evidence.

First they recorded the witness’s biographical details. For “marital status", Ruslan said: “wife died”. The inspector wrote down: widower.

Further events went off the record. Ruslan took advantage of the moment and began to read an open letter to President Putin... Listening to the victims clearly was not part of the public prosecutors’ plans; the record of the cross-examination remained empty.

- Does the investigation still deny that flame throwers were applied during the storm? –Murat Kaboev, representative of the initiative group and a journalist for a local newspaper “Zhizn Pravoberezhiya”, returned to the main topic.

- Special task forces were questioned, diagrams were drawn that show who was sitting where, - the head of investigation Konstantin Krivorotov replied.

- They are denying that they were shooting? – Elbrus Tedtov asked (who lost his 11 year-old son, Timur).

- No.

- The investigation has been trying to determine who was using flame throwers for seven months already! – Murat Kaboev said reproachfully.

- Is has already been cleared up, - Krivorotov answered.

- It has been cleared up that tanks, grenade guns, flame throwers and all the rest were used - public prosecutor Prokopov clarified. - They were used during the storm.

These statements could be considered sensational. Finally the investigation admitted to this obvious fact, but these acknowledgements of the public prosecutors deeply revolted Ruslan Tebiev.

- Our troops used flame throwers, it this a fact? – Ruslan asked.

- Yes, - has Krivorotov replied.

- And they shot from tanks, is this a fact?

- Yes, - the public prosecutor agreed.

- Then why aren’t you taking legal action against the person who gave the orders to use heavy arms?! – Tebiev almost shouted.

- Right now, a situational examination is taking place (it has been going on since November. – Ed.), which is assessing the orders of the administrative board, actions of the subordinates within the limits of those days. Only after the experts draw some conclusions about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of above actions shall we classify these actions under the law.

- But according to the international convention it is forbidden to use flame throwers in such a situation! – Ruslan flared up.

- On this topic, there are also experts, - Prokopov nodded. – If the experts conclude that it was illegal to use this given weapon, then the people who gave the order and the people who used the weapon will bear criminal liability.

- Please! – Ruslan Tebiev tried to say – this weapon is forbidden by the international convention.

- If this weapon really was forbidden by the international convention, our armies wouldn’t have them! – Prokopov said impatiently. - I have personally received a response from our military that "Shmels" are not forbidden here. We should find the convention on the Internet and we should take a look at it once again. But I doubt that flame throwers RPO-A are forbidden by the convention. The thing is that there is a whole series of flame throwers. There are flame throwers which were invented earlier and their application is categorically forbidden. And there are flame throwers the use of which is allowed. - During an anti-terrorist operation? – Elbrus Tedtov raised a question.

- When clearing hostages? – the journalists erupted.

- No! – Prokopov exclaimed. – Hold on! Listen!

- Let's focus on what we came here for. We flew here to transfer material evidences… - senator Bugulov wedged in.

- Yes! - public prosecutor Prokopov sighed. - If you actually believe that the material evidence is significant, allow the inspectors to do their job.

Beslan residents ignored this appeal to cooperation.

- Why won’t you just admit that they used this illegal weapon because of which our relatives died? – Ruslan Tebiev asked.

- As soon as we’ll have the results of the examination…- public prosecutor Krivorotov began to explain, but was interrupted by Elbrus Tedtov.

- It’s been seven months, and you still cannot complete the examination…

- Tell me! - public prosecutor Prokopov truly flared up. – Have there ever been terrorist acts like Beslan before?

- We’ve had 13 terrorist acts in our republic since 2001 to 2004 – Ruslan answered. – No conclusions have been made. No measures have been taken.

- Yes, we were investigating them, - Krivorotov said proudly.

- Please let me say something, - Prokopov asked to say a word. – There hasn’t been an act of terrorism similar to Beslan as of yet, therefore there has never been such an examination. This is a particularly complex thing. It is necessary to assess everything. Accusing someone without grounds so that you calm down would be another crime.

- But didn’t you institute criminal proceedings against deputy chiefs of RUVD [District Administration of Internal Affairs]? - Victor Alikov asked (he lost his daughter, teacher Albina Alikova).

- Correct, - Prokopov nodded. - Since we established that they did not execute the order to improve the safety of schools and other objects and have allowed negligence which had heavy consequences. They are guilty and will be punished.

- And our Minister of Internal Affairs will carry the blame as a member of the headquarters? – Alikov asked.

- Not one of them will carry the blame…- Ruslan Tebiev said gloomy.

- Why are you so sure of that? - Public prosecutor Prokopov asked.

In the meantime an inspector was filling out the report for questioning of the witness, clarifying details from time to time, as if parallel to the ongoing conversation. The public prosecutors let everyone present know that whether there has been one flame thrower more or one flame thrower less was not important. The procedure of transferring the scandalous material evidence became minor. Right before our eyes officials have switched tactics, and we became witnesses of how the opportunity of assigning the blame to those who really gave the orders to shoot the school with tanks and flame throwers was denied from the very beginning.

During the transfer of material evidences we found out that members of the Center of Special Tasks shot the school with flame throwers from roofs of houses on Shkolnyi Pereulok. More exactly, it was Special Task Forces, which is a jurisdiction of FSB, the tanks and the questioned tank men (their questioning should be on the record) are subordinates of the 58-th army.

The 58-th army is headed by General Sobolev. The storming operation, according to witnesses, was supervised by the deputy director of FSB Pronichev. These, as a matter of fact, are the people who gave the orders on the use of weapons of such enormous destructive force (see photos of the school) against 32 insurgents and 1200 hostages.

However, there are grounds to believe that, as in the case of Nord-Ost (northern wind) gas, the use of flame throwers, grenade guns, and tanks will be justified.

Tired of the constantly repeating questions, the head of investigatory group Konstantin Krivorotov decided to resolve the situation once and for all, but something kept him from naming things by their proper names.

- Those who stormed the school and were clearing hostages were the ones who were shooting. There were probably members of special task forces.

- Earlier you said that these weapons were held by the insurgents – Murat Kaboev said. - Why?

- It is quite possible that they had such weapons and that they used them.

- No, we mean those particular flame throwers that were discovered on the roof of building 37 on Shkolnyi pereulok and which, according to Shepel’s initial statements, belonged to the insurgents. So who was using them – our guys or the terrorists? – Murat was not retreating.

- I cannot say exactly, - Krivorotov mumbled.

- We have witnesses who saw how the special troops brought the flame throwers to the roof of this house.

- Nobody is denying that flame throwers were used during the storm, - Krivorotov became angry. – We have nine tubes. It is no secret that they were used while clearing hostages. Nobody is denying it. They were used. On the third. But the third is a fairly long time period. It was also when the tanks were used. Tanks were used on the insurgents who were sitting in the basement.

- You said earlier that you only shot the insurgents, - Ruslan Tebiev tried to clarify. - But from the very beginning you told us that the insurgents shielded themselves with hostages. Does this mean that they were shooting the hostages too?

- I did not say that, - public prosecutor Prokopov tried to convince people. - I said that heavy arms were used when there were already no living hostages inside the school.

- And who determined that? – Sasha Gumetsev asked. – How is it possible to determine whether there are any hostages inside a school while storming it with tanks and flame throwers?

- No corpses aside from corpses of the insurgents were found in the buildings that were shot by tanks. Is this proof or not?

- No, - Gumetsev said firmly. You found this out only AFTER the storm. And during the storm nobody could be sure of that. Is the logic clear? So who and how determined the safety of the use of heavy arms during the storm, and who and how determined that there were only insurgents inside those buildings?

- There are witnesses among the victims, - the head of investigatory group Krivorotov surprised everyone. - They have testified that when flame throwers and tanks were applied, there were only insurgents in the school. There were no hostages around.

- Can you name these witnesses? - inspector Krivorotov was asked. But he got quiet:

- No. I do not remember.

- But are these testimonies on record?

- Yes. Such testimonies should be on the record.

Senator Eric Bugulov was interested in questions of corporate ethics: whether he should stand out on the record of transferring material evidences.

- Well, since you insist, write me down on the record, - the senator decided at last. - Only do not specify that I am a member of the parliamentary commission! Do not record the place of my work! Or else we might have a departmental conflict… Can I sign the report as a regular citizen?

As soon as the report was signed by the intended (journalists of "Novaya Gazeta” and "Zhizn Provoberezhya"), senator Bugulov shook everyone’s hands, promised further cooperation and left.

The others were not in a rush to leave. All of them were trying to understand facts that were obvious (in the opinion of the Public Prosecutor):

- It is clear that it’s possible to destroy the insurgents precisely by means of a rifle with a laser aim. What is not clear is how it is possible to precisely destroy terrorists with tanks and flame throwers.

- In a given situation the use of such weapon was reasonable, - patiently explained Krivorotov.

- Can I explain Shmel’s principle action? - public prosecutor Prokopov suggested. - Is it possible to extinguish a match with gasoline? Yes, although gasoline is an easily flammable substance. But if the spark, which in this case is produced by a match, is too small and short-lived, it is impossible to ignite gasoline. The same thing with flame throwers "Shmel". We have a testimony of an expert in the documents of the court case. The expert investigates tactically-technological characteristics of a flame thrower "Shmel". The expert said that the principle action of this flame thrower is not incendiary. “Shmel” has thermobarometric action. The missile burns down instantly and there is no time to set anything on fire, and after a shot is made, a vacuum develops. But it cannot set anything like a roof on fire. Had the roof of the gym been shot with flame throwers, it would have collapsed, but, according to the experts, flame throwers would not be able to ignite the roof. The roof lit up from explosions in the gym…

- So you are trying to say that the action of flame throwers can be compared to a lit match?

- By its principle - yes, - public prosecutor Prokopov confirmed. This is elementary physics.

- And how would you explain that only the roof of the gym has burned down, and not the floor? – Murat Kaboev asked.

We need to have more examinations on this, - the head of investigatory group Krivorotov answered.

- And who are your experts?

- Experts of the 58-th army and experts of the Scientific Research Institute of FSB.

Reminder: the 58-th army transferred a tank platoon to the school, and the special troops of FSB shot flame throwers into the school.

Olga BOBROVA, Elena MILASHINA, special correspondents of "Novaya Gazeta", Beslan

Published in " Novaya Gazeta" 07.04.2005, # 25