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Russian Agents Allowed Attackers Free Passage, Aiding School Siege<P>By C.J. Chivers THE NEW YORK TIMES <P>MOSCOW <P>

Russian Agents Allowed Attackers
Free Passage, Aiding School Siege

By C.J. Chivers


Shamil Basayev, the Chechen rebel leader and mastermind of the siege last year at School No.1 in Beslan, said on Wednesday that Russia’s special services had helped make the assault possible by allowing the terrorists safe passage toward the school in an attempt to ambush them.

In an announcement on a Web site that often posts his statements and videos, Basayev said he had deceived Russian intelligence services, which believed that his terrorists would attack a government center in the regional capital and cleared a route at the border as part of a trap, which the terrorists sidestepped. The Russian authorities denounced the statement, dismissing it as “total nonsense” and the assertions of a “child murderer.”

“Investigators have no evidence suggesting that special services were in any way involved in the seizure,” Nikolai Shepel, Russia’s deputy prosecutor general, told the Interfax news agency.

Unraveling truth from fiction in Basayev’s statements has often proved difficult; he is prone to exaggeration, absurdities, and lies. His past statements, however, have at times offered fresh details or evidence of his activities that have later been confirmed.

The Web posting, which was timed to appear in the news as residents of Beslan prepared for the first anniversary of the school seizure, exploited the uncertainties and lingering questions that surround the terrorist act. The school was seized on the morning of Sept. 1, when the terrorists took nearly 1,200 hostages. The crisis ended in battle and fire on Sept. 3; 331 people died, including 186 children. More than 700 other people were injured.

There has been little public confidence in the federal investigations into the causes of the siege and the bungled Russian response, and Basayev touched on one of the questions that Beslan’s grieving families have found the most perplexing and disturbing: How did a truck full of armed and bearded men, many in masks, make its way in daylight through a heavily policed region?

The Russian government has been unable to provide an answer that has gained public satisfaction.

According to Basayev’s version, which could not be verified, Russia’s special services had managed to plant an agent last year inside the Riyadus-Salakhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs, the terrorist group Basayev commands.

But the mole, who Basayev said was detected, was persuaded to become a double agent.

The special services, believing they had inside information on the group’s plans, were then led to believe that it would attack a government center in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, on Sept. 6, and would conduct a reconnaissance a few days before, Basayev said.

He said the group took advantage of the ruse. He said that “from Aug. 31 they opened a corridor for us for active collection of reconnaissance information, and we used it to enter Beslan,” having confused the authorities on the time and object of the attack. Beslan is in North Ossetia, a 25-minute drive from Vladikavkaz.