Thursday, July 21, 2005

Beslan: The Questions Mount

The Moscow Times reports that Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel has now changed his story, and has acknowledged that commandos fired flamethrowers into the packed Beslan school gym, fueling speculation about what set off the blaze that engulfed the building and contributed to the deaths of scores of hostages.
Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel, who reversed his earlier statements by making the admission last week, adamantly insisted, however, that the Shmel flamethrowers could not have sparked the inferno during a special forces operation to free the 1,200 hostages on Sept. 3. More than 330 people died in the Sept. 1-3 attack, about half of them children.

If prosecutors find that the commandos intentionally ignited the gym, as some Beslan residents and a regional lawmaker believe, it would mean that Russia violated an international convention banning the use of incendiary weapons that might injure or kill civilians, said Alexander Cherkasov, a senior member of the Memorial human rights group. Prosecutors also would then face the potentially unpleasant prospect of having to open an investigation into the military and security officials who organized the rescue operation, he said.

Although classified as a flamethrower, the Shmel in fact launches rocket-propelled projectiles, according to Jane's Information Group, an international center for defense information. The Shmel has three modifications: the RPO-A, whose shells explode; the RPO-Z, whose shells are incendiary; and the RPO-D, whose shells create smoke.
The report also gives the reactions of parents who lost children in the storming of the school:
Beslan residents attending the ongoing trial of the only suspected surviving hostage-taker in the North Ossetian Supreme Court in Vladikavkaz said they had not noticed any glowing but were convinced that the commandos had caused the fire. Aza Gumesova, whose child died in the gym, said the fire was so hot that the metal crowns on her child's teeth melted.

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