The head of the Russian parliamentary commission investigating the Beslan school siege that left 331 dead last year said Wednesday that local law enforcement officials negligently ignored instructions to strengthen school security ahead of the terrorist attack. Alexander Torshin told parliament that Russia’s interior minister and his deputy sent telegrams less than two weeks before the militants’ raid instructing regional police to beef up security on the first day of school.
“That could have prevented the terrorist attack,” Torshin said. Instead, a single policewoman was posted outside the school on the day of the siege. She was taken hostage, he said. Torshin said that local authorities had sharply underreported the number of hostages during the early stages of the crisis. Survivors have said that the misinformation infuriated the hostage-takers, who were demanding that Russian troops withdraw from the nearby breakaway province of Chechnya. The Islamic fighters seized 1,128 pupils, their teachers and parents in the southern Russian town on Sept. 1, 2004, provoking a three-day standoff ending in a raid, gunfire and explosions. The dead included 186 children.