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Basayev Says He Was Behind Beslan

Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for the Beslan hostage-taking and four other recent attacks and defiantly threatened to carry out more.

Basayev said in a statement posted on a rebel web site Friday that the attacks -- which include two plane bombings, a Moscow metro suicide blast and a Moscow bus stop explosion -- were part of a campaign to end the Chechen conflict, start the withdrawal of federal troops from Chechnya and force President Vladimir Putin to resign if he "doesn't want peace."

Putin, whose government had earlier linked the terror attacks to Basayev and rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, did not make any public remarks about the statement. He told a meeting of world mayors Friday that Moscow is "seriously preparing" to launch preventive strikes against terrorist targets.

A day after the claim of responsibility appeared on Kavkazcenter.com, a Lithuanian-based web site that has previously published statements attributed to Basayev, Vilnius shut down the site's server.

Basayev said his followers would strike wherever is deemed necessary to further the rebel cause.

Basayev said his sabotage squad Riyadus Salikhin, or Gardens of the Pious, had carried out the recent attacks and offered a version of Beslan events that differed significantly from the account given by authorities.

He said federal forces had planned in advance the Sept. 3 storming, which resulted in hundreds of deaths, and that it had not been sparked by the accidental detonation of a guerrilla bomb in the school. He denied that the guerrillas had shot at fleeing children.

Basayev said 33 guerrillas participated in the raid, which he called "Nord West," in a reference to Moscow's "Nord Ost" hostage-taking in 2002, for which he has also claimed responsibility. He said the hostage-takers included 10 Chechen men, two Chechen female suicide bombers, nine Ingush, three ethnic Russians, two Arabs, two Ossetians, one Tatar, one Kabardin, and one resident of the Irkutsk region city of Guran.

Officials say there were 32 attackers and initially declared that nine were Arabs. They say all were killed but one man, who is being held in custody. They also say the 12 attackers who have been identified so far include Chechens, Ingush and one Ossetian.

Basayev said he trained the hostage-takers for 10 days in a forest near the village of Batako-Yurt, 20 kilometers from Beslan, and identified their leader as "Colonel Ortskhoyev." Former hostages say the attackers had referred to their leader as "the colonel."

Deputy Prosecutor Vladimir Kolesnikov said Friday that the leader had been identified as Ruslan Khochubarov, a native of Chechnya.

Basayev said the guerrillas would have provided water to the Beslan hostages if Putin had publicly ordered an end to the Chechen conflict. Food would have followed if federal troops had started to withdraw from Chechnya. Children under the age of 10 would have been freed if Putin had resigned. Then, the attackers would have left for Chechnya with the rest of the hostages, Basayev said.

He said the Aug. 24 bombing of two passenger planes, in which 90 passengers perished, and the Aug. 31 suicide bombing at the Rizhskaya metro station, which killed nine passersby, were in response to the Chechen presidential election on Aug. 29, which Kremlin-backed candidate Alu Alkhanov won.

He said the Beslan siege cost 8,000 euros ($9,700) and the plane bombings cost $4,000, while the metro blast and a bus stop explosion on Kashirskoye Shosse on Aug. 24 that injured four people cost $7,000.

He denied having any links to Osama bin Laden, but said he would not turn down bin Laden's money if it were offered. He said only a small part of his financing comes from abroad.

Maskhadov, who has denied complicity with the latest attacks, acknowledged Thursday that there is a radical group in the Chechen resistance that has lost faith in the fight by conventional means and opted for terrorism. In a statement posted on his web site Chechenpress.info, he offered his condolences to the Ossetian people and once again called on Putin to start negotiations, saying this would be the only way to stop terror.

Putin reiterated his refusal to negotiate Friday.

A spokesman for federal forces in Chechnya, Colonel Ilya Shabalkin, told Interfax that Maskhadov and Basayev were using "good cop-bad cop" tactics to advance the rebels' demands.

During the hostage crisis and in its aftermath, authorities said the attackers had not made any political demands.

(The Moscow Times 20.ix.04)

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