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Beslan mothers: Putin is culpable

Relatives of victims in last year's massacre will meet the Russian president on Friday.

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Shamil Basayev is Russia's Osama bin Laden. Yet as Beslan prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of the school siege he engineered, many of the victims' mothers are increasingly laying blame for the September massacre not on Mr. Basayev, but on Russian authorities.

They are stoking controversy by demanding that top leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, stay away from this week's service to commemorate the 331 victims, half of them children, who perished in the Sept. 1-3, 2004, terrorist attack.

Their accusations have been fueled by leaks from two still-incomplete investigations, and evidence presented at the ongoing trial of the sole surviving terrorist, Nurpashi Kulayev. Both have raised sharp doubts about the official version of events.

Witnesses at Mr. Kulayev's trial have testified that Russian security forces, using flame-throwers and tanks against a school holding more than 1,000 hostages, may have been responsible for many deaths.

Others have fingered corrupt officials and inept police officers for allowing the terrorists to drive across a heavily guarded border and seize a school in the center of a large town.

"We want all those who are responsible to face justice," says Roza Sidakova, a spokesperson for the Beslan Mothers group. Ms. Sidakova lost her 9-year-old daughter when security forces stormed the school on Sept. 3.

The mood of disbelief is not confined to victims' families. A countrywide poll conducted last month by the Moscow-based Public Opinion Foundation found that only 15 percent of Russians expect the official investigation, headed by Alexander Torshin, the deputy speaker of parliament's upper house, to get to the bottom of what happened in Beslan.

Another 20 percent think the commission will discover the truth, but keep it secret.


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