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Russian forces faulted in Beslan school tragedy

A new report condemns the handling of the Beslan school attack two years later.

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The hard, bitter questions just won't stop coming.

Two years after the terrorist attack on a Beslan school that killed 332 people, including 186 children, a majority of Russians say they don't believe their government is telling the truth about the tragedy.

An independent investigation published this week will heap fuel on the flames of public doubt by challenging key points in the official version of what happened during the three violent September days that are often referred to as "Russia's 9/11."

Despite broad public suspicion and anger over the attack, President Vladimir Putin, who used the shock of Beslan to ram through tough curbs on Russian democracy two years ago, appears so far to have avoided any direct association with the fiasco in the public mind.

The 700-page unauthorized report, written by parliamentarian Yury Savelyev and excerpted in the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, reads like a catalog of official incompetence and malfeasance, with occasional hints of conspiracy.

It alleges that authorities had advance warning of the attack, hours before terrorists seized 1,128 hostages and confined them in the gym of Beslan's School No. 1, but did not act upon it.

Mr. Savelyev, an explosives expert and member of the official Duma commission investigating the tragedy, concludes that the brutal, 11-hour gun battle that killed most of the victims was triggered not by a bomb detonated by the attackers – as authorities claim – but by a Russian incendiary grenade. Citing new evidence, he suggests that Russian security forces may have fired machine guns, tank cannons, and rocketgrenades into a wing of the school, killing over 100 hostages.

"Recent polls show most Russians do not believe they're being told the truth about Beslan, and it looks like they have good grounds not to," says Masha Lipman, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "Everything points to the likelihood that the government is more interested in covering up what happened there than in disclosing the real facts."

A survey released this week by the independent Levada Center in Moscow found that just 5 percent of Russians believe officials have told the whole truth about Beslan. According to the poll of 1,600 people, 50 percent think they've been given part of the picture, 28 percent believe the authorities are covering up the truth, and 8 percent say the government is deliberately lying about what happened.

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