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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 December, 2004, 11:00 GMT
Top officials blamed for Beslan
Flowers cover the floor of the gym
Most victims of the Beslan school siege were young children
A Russian MP heading the investigation into the Beslan school siege has blamed the lack of organisation during the crisis on senior Kremlin officials.

Aleksandr Torshin added that some of the attackers could have escaped from the school.

In an interview with a Russian daily newspaper, he also said Russia lacked any strategy in the North Caucasus.

The bloody hostage drama in North Ossetia in September left more than 340 people dead and hundreds injured.

In the interview, published on the Moskovsky Komsomolets website, Mr Torshin, said that the commission had many questions for the security forces, as well as others.

"How can one explain why there was no joint command of the counter-terrorist operation [to save the hostages] in the first 36 hours?" Mr Torshin asked.

He said that in the absence of any orders from Moscow, the head of the local Federal Security Service department, Gen Valery Andreyev, had to take responsibility without having sufficient authority to do so.

Asked who should have given these orders, Mr Torshin said:

"The chairman of the government [Russian premier Mikhail Fradkov]. Eventually the order was received at 2 pm on 2 September. But so much time had been lost."

The siege started in the morning of 1 September and ended on 3 September.

Situation room

Mr Torshin, who is the vice-speaker of the Russian parliament's upper chamber, said that Moscow officials also failed to organise the collection and processing of relevant information.

"The Security Council has a special room for that, the situation room," he said.

"Here in this room experts were supposed to work out the tactics and maintain continuous exchange of information with the HQ on the ground."

Let's speak honestly. Our policy in the North Caucasus is extremely inefficient. I think there is no policy at all
Aleksandr Torhsin
He said the commission planned to question the chairman of the Security Council, Igor Ivanov.

Mr Torshin repeated the official version of event - which says there were 32 attackers, including two women, who seized more than 1,000 hostages in the school - but pointed out numerous contradictions.

"We could not find the second woman-kamikaze. Although investigators say there is a body that cannot be identified," he said.

Meanwhile, according to Mr Torshin, a high-ranking witness told the commission he saw four women among the attackers.

'High-class professionals

Mr Torshin said the 16 attackers who have been identified were ordinary militants and reiterated his previous claims that others could have been trained by foreign secret services.

"Only high-class professionals can shoot so efficiently. They killed 10 special force members," he said.

He confirmed reports that close relatives of rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov were detained in Chechnya during the drama, but insisted that it was for their own safety.

He also said the commission established that the attackers used drugs. He said it could have been a secret psychotropic substance used by special units of the Russian military intelligence.

Asked about the general situation in the North Caucasus, Mr Torshin said that Chechnya is currently not the most unstable region. Things are even worse in the adjacent Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, he insisted.

"Let's speak honestly. Our policy in the North Caucasus is extremely inefficient. I think there is no policy at all", he said.

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