Andrew Osborn








Beslan hostage-takers "were on drugs"

The Independent, 18th October 2004 14:30

Andrew Osborn in Moscow

ALL OF the hostage-takers who seized Beslan"s School Number One on 1 September were drug addicts and were under the influence of narcotics throughout the 52-hour siege, Russia"s deputy prosecutor general claimed yesterday.

In a statement to the Interfax news agency, Nikolay Shepel said tests on the extremists" corpses had shown that 22 of the 32 hostage-takers were on hard drugs and had regularly injected substances such as heroin and morphine while the other 10 had been using softer drugs. His statement vindicates the view of many of the bereaved who have claimed that the extremists were "narkomany" or junkies.

Traces of narcotics left in the militants" bodies exceeded normally lethal levels, Mr Shepel added, indicating that they were long-term addicts and had been under the influence while preparing the terror act which ultimately claimed the lives of 344 people, more than half of whom were children.

Their extreme brutality could have been exacerbated by the fact that some of them had run out of drugs.

Mr Shepel said: "Some of the criminals had run out of drugs and were suffering from withdrawal symptoms which are usually accompanied by aggressiveness and uncontrollable behaviour."

"These conclusions allow us to look at the situation from a new angle."

His claims were backed up by Alexander Torshin, the chairman of the parliamentary inquiry into the tragedy, who said that many of the witnesses he and his colleagues had interviewed had said the same.

"The commission is determined to find out what was in these drugs because judging by eyewitness testimony - and we need to check this - the terrorists had practically no pain threshold," he told Ekho Moskvy radio station yesterday. "They were able to take three bullets and continue to fight and showed no signs of fatigue."

Mr Torshin added that the room where the hostage-takers had slept and fed themselves had provided no supporting evidence and that only date- wrappers had been found there.

Noting that the extremists had drunk and eaten very little during the siege, he said that they appeared to have been taking some kind of "special" drugs to sharpen their eyesight, a crucial faculty for snipers who kept Russian special forces at bay for hours.

Some of the extremists are also known to have listened to German hard rock group Rammstein on personal stereos during the siege to keep themselves edgy and fired up.

Chechen extremists have used drugs before to keep their energy levels high at crucial moments. Many of the militants who seized a packed Moscowtheatre in 2002 were revealed to have been under the influence of drugs; the authorities found syringes and narcotics after special forces stormed the building.

The Beslan parliamentary commission, which is made up of 12 senators and 10 deputies, has said it hopes to complete its work within six months.It initially had 50 questions it wanted answered but that number has risen to more than 500.

It is unclear how much of its findings will be revealed; one commission member has already warned that the truth about what really happened inside the school in Beslan might be too unpalatable to make public and the results might have to be kept confidential.