| A boy stands in the rain during funerals for those killed in the school tragedy in Beslan, North Ossetia. (Reuters)
Moscow, Sept. 6 (Reuters): Security forces bungled the handling of Russia’s worst hostage drama because nobody was in charge and special forces were not ready when the shooting started, security analysts said today.
“It’s clear that it was a total mess,” leading military analyst Alexander Golts said. “They were not prepared.”
As the death toll from the battle that ended the siege in the North Ossetian town of Beslan rose above 330, Russia’s media asked how the vaunted special forces had allowed a two-day standoff to turn into a bloodbath.
Authorities said they were forced to storm the school when the militants fired on hostages who were fleeing in the confusion following two explosions. With no security cordon to keep them back, armed local people pressed forward and were among the first to return fire.
Local troops — unprepared and possibly short of ammunition — suddenly found themselves assaulting the school, while special forces moved in only half-an-hour after the battle began, Golts said.
The newspaper Vremya Novostei said that when the fighting started, two special forces squads from the FSB security service were still discussing assault plans and had not even agreed on approach routes or where the defenders’ firing points were.
It said the two squads, Alfa and Vympel — equivalent to Britain’s Special Air Service or the US Delta Force — suffered unprecedented casualties totalling 10 dead and up to 31 wounded.
However, according to the Izvestia daily, the assault was launched by furious parents and relatives. “It seems that the personnel flying squads, fathers of hostage children, volunteers manning the security cordon and bystanders launched the assault,” a federal security officer was quoted by Izvestia.
Security expert Andrei Soldatov said on Ekho Moskvy radio that the battle began so suddenly that many of the special forces fought without bullet-proof vests. But local troops were also too close to the school, keen to show the media the scene.
Nato secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has called a meeting of Nato states and Russia tomorrow to discuss the siege of a school by Chechen separatists in which more than 335 people died, a Nato spokesman said.