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Chechen warlord claims Russia opened way for school attack

BESLAN, Russia -- A Chechen warlord claimed in an Internet posting yesterday that Russian security services bore responsibility for last year's deadly Beslan school siege by providing the attackers with safe passage through the region to try to trap them.

In the statement on the Kavkaz Center website, Shamil Basayev said a Russian double agent had been among the hostage-takers. He also claimed that a second attacker had survived the three-day siege and was now with Basayev's men and prepared to testify.

Russian prosecutors, however, say all but one of the 32 attackers were killed; the sole survivor is on trial.

The authenticity of Basayev's statement could not be confirmed independently. However, the Kavkaz Center site is considered a mouthpiece for his faction, and he has never disavowed previous statements that have appeared there under his name.

Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel of Russia, who is presenting the state's case at the trial, dismissed Basayev's claims and said investigators had no evidence of involvement by the special services.

''The assertions of this terrorist and child-murderer are total nonsense," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Shortly after the raid, Basayev said he had masterminded it but put the onus on the Kremlin for the tragedy.

Basayev's statement came on the eve of the first anniversary of the Beslan tragedy, in which some 330 victims, more than half of them children, were killed.

The masked, heavily armed militants seized about 1,200 hostages who had come to a school in the small southern town to celebrate Knowledge Day, the first day of school.

Basayev said top security officials in North Ossetia, the region where the attack occurred, had opened a safe route beginning Aug. 31, 2004 -- the day before the Beslan siege began -- for rebels to reach the regional capital, Vladikavkaz.

The alleged double agent was supposed to have gained Basayev's confidence and then lead his men into a trap as they were en route to seize regional government buildings in Vladikavkaz on Sept. 6.

Instead, as they were supposed to be performing reconnaissance, the militants seized the school, Basayev said. Their demands were for Russian troops to withdraw from Chechnya or for President Vladimir Putin to resign, Basayev said.

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