One of the government's negotiators, Ruslan Aushev, provided new details about the chaotic moments that followed, saying the confrontation was actually precipitated by armed Beslan civilians. After the bomb in the gym went off, Russian troops held their fire, but civilian gunmen who had moved close to the school began shooting, Aushev told the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Russian officials called the guerrillas inside and declared that they were not attacking, but the guerrillas insisted that they were and began returning fire. Unable to control the civilians, the Russian troops had to launch their own operation, Aushev said. "Everything went down the drain when these civilians opened fire," he said.
Residents of North Ossetia react as Dzasokhov speaks from the balcony of the administration headquarters in the region's capital, Vladikavkaz, where thousands took to the streets to protest the government's handling of the siege.
(Ivan Sekretarev -- AP)
_____Inside the Gym_____
Video Report: Video recorded by terrorists in the school in Beslan was released by the Russian government Tuesday. It shows how the gym was rigged with explosives.
Russia Begins Burying Victims: Funeral processions in Beslan on Monday moved one after another for the hundreds who died in the Russian school hostage crisis.
Photos: Standoff Ends
_____More From The Post_____
Beslan Residents Mourn Their City Along With Their Dead (The Washington Post, Sep 9, 2004)
Putin Angered By Critics On Siege (The Washington Post, Sep 8, 2004)
Old Animosities Boil Anew In Wake of School Tragedy (The Washington Post, Sep 8, 2004)
Hostage Takers in Russia Argued Before Explosion (The Washington Post, Sep 7, 2004)
Under a 'Crying' Sky, Beslan's Dead Are Laid to Rest (The Washington Post, Sep 7, 2004)
Russia Admits It Lied On Crisis (The Washington Post, Sep 6, 2004)
A Gruesome Tour Inside School No. 1 (The Washington Post, Sep 6, 2004)
Live, 2 p.m. ET
Sarah Mendelson, senior fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at CSIS, will discuss the school massacre in Beslan and Putin's angered response to terrorism.
The civilians ended up shooting some of Russia's elite special forces troops, according to Russian officials. Aslanbek Aslakhanov, a top aide to Putin, said in an interview this week that 20 members of the Alpha and Vympel special forces squads were killed, many by friendly fire. Peskov said Wednesday that the number killed was actually 10.
Peskov also said he could not confirm that 10 Arabs were among the hostage takers, as Russian officials earlier reported. "The first information was just preliminary and it needs to be checked," he said. "The only thing we can say for sure is it was a multinational group."
But Aushev's account confirmed that the hostage takers were focused on Chechnya. They gave him a letter to take to Putin, he said, in which they demanded that Russian troops be withdrawn from Chechnya and that the separatist region be turned over to the control of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose organization of most former Soviet republics.
The government on Wednesday put a $10 million bounty on the heads of Chechen rebel commanders Shamil Basayev and Aslan Maskhadov, whom they blamed for sponsoring the attack. Col. Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, the armed forces chief of staff, asserted the right to launch preemptive attacks on what he termed "terrorist bases" outside Russia. "We will take steps to eliminate terrorist bases in any region of the world," he told journalists.
Russia made such statements in 2002 in threatening its neighbor Georgia, where Chechen guerrillas had taken shelter. More recently, Russian agents were convicted of assassinating a former Chechen leader in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar. Baluyevsky's statement appeared to be more threat than foreshadowing, because the Russian government is not known to have identified any such targets.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also had tough words Wednesday, faulting U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher for saying Tuesday that Washington officials may still meet with Chechen opposition figures that Moscow calls terrorists. "We deem such statements to be out of place," Lavrov said in a statement.
In the North Ossetian town of Vladikavkaz, thousands of protesters took to the streets Wednesday, demanding the resignation of President Aleksandr Dzasokhov and his government for their handling of the siege. Dzasokhov said the government would leave office in two days, but he did not offer his own resignation.
Correspondent Peter Finn in Beslan contributed to this report.