Who and how used flame throwers in Beslan when freeing hostages?

Up until "Novaya Gazeta" passed the discovered flame throwers to the parliamentary commission on investigation of the terrorist act in Beslan, the Office of Public Prosecutor insisted that flame throwers were not used. Then the Prosecutor has admitted that they were used but declared that the school did not burn down because of them. They are trying to convince us that flame throwers kill only terrorists, not hostages.

On Tuesday July 12th, at a briefing in Vladikavkaz, the Assistant to the Public Prosecutor on YUFO Nikolay Shepel has unequivocally declared: during the storming of the Beslan school, soldiers of the 58-th army and special troops of FSB used tanks and flame throwers "Shmel" (Bumblebee). Some sources of mass media considered this statement sensational, and others, including some of the most authoritative newspapers such as "Kommersant", "Moscovskii Komsomolets, radio station "Mayak", a broadcasting company of NTV, etc., have interpreted Shepels words as just their opposite. According to their versions, the assistant to the public prosecutor has stated that flame throwers were not used.

What is interesting is that in the next couple of days, the above-mentioned media sources did not announce any refutations of such inexact citing of the public prosecutor about the application of a weapon of such unselective character (Flame throwers are classified as such by the third report of the convention on the prohibition or restriction of application of certain kinds of weapons that leave no chance of survival or have unselective action, since October 10th, 1980 and accordingly forbids the government, which ratified this report, to use flame throwers against military or civilians).

Despite Shepels tongue-twist, the main point of his statement was extremely clear. Here is the exact quote: "Id like to say that we appoint and lead the examination of the Military Academy of Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection which has precisely said that RPO- is not a weapon of incendiary action. And all the talk of a weapon forbidden by international contracts and conventions should be swept aside. In addition, for the accuracy of the investigation, a Shmel was fired into a dry wooden building, and the building was completely destroyed. Here is a photo. But the building did not light on fire. It did not ignite because, experts say, that in order to receive skin burn or for an object to ignite, it is necessary for a fire to last anywhere from 3 to 5 seconds. Shmel and its explosion, has a ring of fire with a diameter of 6-7 meters, it moves for only 0.3 to 0.5 seconds. That is ten times quicker".

To the journalists direct question on whether flame throwers were applied or not, Shepel responded:

"Certainly. We did not deny that flame throwers were used. From the very beginning. Moreover, more precisely, flame throwers are not called RPO-, so-called "Shmels". Here, if it will be necessary, I will tell you the opinion of the experts. I once again repeat that Shmels do not have incendiary action. Thermobarometric action. That is when oxygen burns and there is a kind of a vacuum; it collapses, and the person dies. But only RPO-s were used.

To the question on whether tanks were used:

"We also spoke about this. Nobody is denying that tanks were used. We have witnesses to testify about it, and commanders of the 58-th army. Tanks were applied to force out the insurgents who barricaded themselves inside. As you know, we lost many members of the Special Task Force, and it was impossible to take them. And tanks were used when there were already no hostages inside the school".

Let's notice that Nikolay Shepel in this short interview has given us inexact, even crafty data. Novaya gazeta is investigating the use of heavy arms of unselective character in Beslan (that is not precise or personal aim, but mass destruction) since September of last year. Therefore we can declare: if not for the efforts of the North Ossetian Parliamentary commission and the residents of Beslan who found tubes from used flame throwers, collected witnesses testimonies, and literally forced the investigation and the commission, headed by senator Torshin, to attach the discovered material evidence to the main criminal case (tubes, sleeves from tank shells, etc.), the State Office of Public Prosecutors version on the application of flame throwers would now be the following: "During the survey of the place of incident (school), the following terrorist weapons were discovered: 20 automatic devices and 5 Kalashnikov machine guns, 2 manual anti-tank grenade guns, 5 manual flame throwers "Shmel"." (the author of the statement that same Nikolay Shepel; interview with "Izvestia", November of last year).

The suggestion that flame throwers were used by the insurgents, rather than by our special troops of FSB, was put forward in March of this year by the head of the federal parliamentary commission Alexander Torshin in an interview with Novaya Gazeta". This happened after Beslan residents have discovered tubes from flame throwers and have publicly asked Torshin to pass them to the Office of Public Prosecutor. And only during the investigative action, which took place in April of this year in the presence of journalists and an initiative group of Beslans residents, when material evidence was drawn forth, inspectors of the State Office of Public Prosecutor at last have unequivocally stated that flame throwers were part of FSB special troops arms, and that it was FSBs special troops that used this weapon during the so-called storm of the Beslan school.

Now and in April, public prosecutors claimed that shooting flame throwers into civilians is not forbidden by the international conventions. Most likely they did not read the Geneva conventions on the protection of victims of war from August 12th, 1949 and the four reports from the Convention of 1980, which Russia ratified (the fourth report, by the way, was ratified by the State Duma and signed by Putin only recently).

By the way, there is a precise definition of civilian persons and civilian population in the Geneva conventions (item 50), and in item 51 (Protection of civilians), part 5, item b it says, "an attack of unselective character which, as one can expect, will in passing cause losses of lives, wounding of civilians, or damage to civil objects (schools are considered such; item 52, part 3 of Geneva conventions), which would be excessive in relation to concrete and direct military advantage which is supposed to be gained in such a way, is fobidden".

About military examinations, to which Shepel refers to defend those who ordered to shoot the school with tanks and flame throwers, they are a special topic. (Lets remember the "Kursk" case when the main navigator of the Russian Navy Sergey Kozlov specified in his examination that SOS signals existed, but that they came from uncertain persons from an uncertain surface ship, rather than from the people inside the sunken submarine.) And in the case of the terrorist act in Beslan, the examinations, which should establish a cause and effect relationship between the usage of tanks by the 58-th army and the death of hostages, will be lead by experts of the 58-th army. Accordingly, the flame throwers examination is lead by experts of the FSB research institute, so the subordinates will determine the degree to which their superiors are guilty.

The most important report of the Convention of 1980 - the third - is quoted especially for the State Office of Public Prosecutor who should really know the laws better than we do. In his statement Nikolay Shepel emphasized several times that the school, inside which there were 1200 hostages and only 32 terrorists (we emphasize that these are official figures and so far have not been proved), was shot "only" with flame throwers RPO-. Which are not incendiary.

First of all, RPO "Shmel" uses three kinds of shells: incendiary - napalm (letter Z), smoke (letter D), and thermobarometric (letter A). The report of the extraction of material evidence (that is tubes from a flame thrower that were discovered and passed on to the investigation by the residents of Beslan) says RPO (A, Z, D). So there could have been either a thermobarometric charge or an incendiary charge. After the use of an incendiary shell in which the basic operating substance is napalm, there should be traces of phosphorus at the crime scene. Stanislav Kesaev, chairman of the North Ossetian commission on investigation of the terrorist act in Beslan, said in an interview with "Novaya Gazeta" that there were traces of phosphorus on the bodies of victims taken from the gym. Residents of Beslan testified multiple times that after the storm of the school, the walls of the building phosphoresced at night. Experts confirmed the fact that after the use of napalm, phosphoric traces remain for a long time. Since some flame throwers still remain in Beslan, which were not handed over to the investigation, the victims will lead an independent expert examination through the court, in order to finally find out what other kinds of shells of PRO "Shmel", aside from the thermobarometric kind, were used during the so-called storm of the school.

But even those facts that were confirmed by the Assistant to the Public Prosecutor Nikolay Shepel show that the government of Russia has broken a number of clauses of the Convention of 1980, since in the third report of this convention "On the prohibition or restriction of application of incendiary weapons" (clause 1, part 1), it says: Incendiary weapon means any weapon or ammunition which first of all is intended for ignition of objects or for causing burns to humans by means of flame, heat or both, resulting from a chemical reaction of a substance delivered to the aim. Item a: "Incendiary weapons can be, for example, flame throwers, land mines, rockets, grenades, mines, bombs and other containers with incendiary substances".


Published in "Novaya Gazeta 18.07.2005, 51