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'Russia school seizure was bid to start war'

September 07, 2004 16:56 IST

A militant detained in the bloody school seige in Southern Russia has said that "the task had been set" by former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and separatist warlord Shamil Basayev to unleash a regional war.

"A man nicknamed Colonel gathered us in the forest, and they said: 'you must seize a school in Beslan'. They said that this task had been set by Maskhadov and Basayev," the detained man said in his testimony broadcast by state-run Rossiya television channel last night.

Russia braces for more attacks

"When we asked Colonel why we had to do this and what the objective was, he, Colonel, said: 'because is it necessary to unleash a war across the entire Caucasus,'" he was quoted as saying by Interfax.

A gang of armed men seized a school in Beslan town and took over 1,000 children, parents, and teachers hostage on September 1.

On day three of the siege, the school was stormed and over 300 hostages, half of them children, were killed. Russian authorities claimed a group of around 30 militants were involved in the attack which sparked ethnic tension in the region.

Beslan is a wake-up call

Interfax cited prosecutors saying that the militants were the core of  the Shamil Basayev gang. The chief investigator of the Northern Caucasus prosecutor's office said the hostage-takers had taken "active part" in a deadly raid in Ingushetia in June that was "organised by Basayev".

This is the first time an official had publicly linked Basayev-- who claimed responsibility for the hostage incidents in Russia in 1995 and in 2002-- with the school incident.

Aslan Maskhadov, an exiled self-proclaimed Chechen president, issued a statement saying that violence was deplorable but also hinted that Russia was to be blamed for the situation because of its actions in Chechnya.

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