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Putin- Russia 'seriously preparing' for pre-emptive strikes

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Associated Press

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Russia is "seriously preparing" for pre-emptive strikes against terrorists, as Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for a school hostage-taking and other attacks that have claimed more than 430 lives.

Speaking to a meeting of world mayors in Moscow, Putin also made a veiled attack on the West, saying that double standards in dealing with terrorism are "disastrous for global security."

Putin didn't name any specific countries, but his comments appeared to be aimed against European and U.S. officials who have urged Moscow to conduct peace talks with Chechen rebels.

"There continue to be attempts to divide terrorists into 'ours and others,' into 'moderates and radicals,'" Putin said in televised remarks. "All this is a condescending, justifying attitude to murderers, which amounts to being an accomplice to terrorism."

Putin firmly ruled out any "bargaining" with terrorists. "Every concession leads to aggression, a widening of their demands and multiplies the losses," he said.

The president said that "now in Russia, we are seriously preparing to act preventively against terrorists," adding such action would be "in strict accordance with the law and norms of the constitution, norms of international law."

Putin didn't elaborate, and it wasn't immediately clear whether he was referring to action against terrorists only at home or abroad as well. Lower-level officials, including Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, have said that Russia could conduct pre-emptive strikes against terrorists abroad, saying such action could involve any weapons except nuclear.

Also Friday, the main Chechen rebel Web site, Kavkaz-Center, posted what it said was an e-mail from Basayev, claiming his "Riyadus Salikhin Martyrs' Brigade" was responsible for the bombings of two passenger jets last month, a suicide bombing outside a Moscow subway station and the school siege in the southern city of Beslan.

More than 430 people were killed in the attacks, including 338 at the school, where the Sept. 1-3 hostage standoff ended in a hail of gunfire and explosions.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Friday that Basayev "is not worthy of existence" if he was responsible for the school siege.

"On the question of Basayev's statement taking credit for the massacre in Beslan, it is proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, that this is inhuman," Armitage told reporters during a stop in Warsaw.

The lengthy e-mail, signed with Basayev's nom de guerre, Abdallakh Shamil, defended the attacks as part of the Chechen war for independence against Russia. It also sought to shift blame for the massacre to Russian forces.

Putin and other officials have said they had not planned to storm the school, where the attackers had rigged bombs near the 1,200 hostages. According to Russian officials and witnesses, after explosions rocked the school and armed volunteers started shooting, the special forces opened fire, too.

Basayev's e-mail disputed that, saying: "We declare that the Russian special services stormed the school, (and that) it was planned from the very beginning."

The e-mail alleged that Emergency Situations Ministry workers who entered the school to collect bodies of dead hostages were in fact security officers, and that the explosions rang out only after those workers yelled "Run out!" to the hostages.

The letter said the attackers promised to give hostages water if Putin decreed an end to fighting in Chechnya and a troop withdrawal from the region; if the troops were really being withdrawn, the captives would have been given food.

"As soon as the troops are withdrawn from the mountains, we will let children up to age 10 go, the rest after the full troop withdrawal," it said.

If Putin had resigned, the attackers would have freed all the children and left for Chechnya with the rest of the hostages, the e-mail said. It also cited Basayev's letter to Putin, which offered peace in exchange for the Kremlin's recognition of Chechnya's independence.

It was impossible to confirm whether the e-mail was genuine, but the Web site long has served as a mouthpiece for Basayev and has carried his previous claims of responsibility.

Alexander Ignatenko, an expert on Islamic militant groups, said the message appeared to be Basayev's response to global condemnation of the school seizure.

"He is afraid of losing support even in the Islamic countries," Ignatenko said. "He wants to shift blame to the Russian authorities."

Basayev also sought to cast the school attack as rightful vengeance for alleged Russian atrocities in Chechnya.

"We regret what happened in Beslan. It's simply that the war, which Putin declared on us five years ago, which has destroyed more than 40,000 Chechen children and crippled more than 5,000 of them, has gone back to where it started from," he wrote.

Casualty figures in Chechnya vary widely, though many estimates say about 80,000 civilians -- 40 percent of them children -- died in the first Chechen war. Countless more have been killed since the conflict exploded again in 1999.

Basayev, whom the U.S. State Department has declared a threat to the United States, also denied Russian claims that he receives money from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

He said he had received less than $20,000 from abroad this year. "I am not acquainted with bin Laden," Basayev said. "I don't receive money from him but would not refuse it."

Basayev's e-mail said the 33 attackers in Beslan included 10 Chechen men, two Chechen women, nine Ingush, three ethnic Russians, two Arabs, and five other Russian citizens. Russian authorities have said there were 32 attackers, all but one of whom were killed.

The e-mail also said Basayev personally trained the attackers for 10 days in a forest outside the village of Batako-Yurt, 12 miles from Beslan. He identified the group's leader as "Col. Orstkhoyev" and denied any of the fighters had objected when they learned children would be taken captive.

Deputy Prosecutor Vladimir Kolesnikov said Friday that the leader of the attackers, nicknamed "Colonel," had been identified as Ruslan Khochubarov, a native of Chechnya, the Interfax news agency reported.


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