Scoop Transcript: Putin On Back Foot On Bombings
NOTE: The following is a transcript of a story published today in the Moscow Times newspaper. See... http://www.moscowtimes.ru/17-Mar-2000/stories/story2.html. For more background to this story see... Scoop Link: Moscow Bombings Linked To Putin and Scoop's Alastair Thompson's commentary on the latest development in the Russian election campaign...Two Weeks From E-Day Putin's Web Begins To Fray.
Friday, March 17, 2000
No Proof Chechens Blew Up Buildings
After six months of work, investigators said Thursday they still believe Chechen rebels may have been behind the apartment building explosions in Moscow, Buinaksk and Volgodonsk, but they have no evidence to prove it.
And of the 26 people on the list of suspects, none is an ethnic Chechen.
The explosions in September, which killed some 300 people, were immediately blamed on rebels from Chechnya and used to help win public support for the military offensive.
Investigators, armed with flow charts, held a news conference Thursday to give an update of their findings to date. But with no big development to report, it appeared to be a response to the snowballing newspaper reports suggesting the Federal Security Service, or FSB, may have masterminded the explosions itself.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov entered the fray by calling for further investigation into the explosions, saying there was increasing evidence they were staged to boost the popularity of Vladimir Putin. Now the acting president, Putin left the FSB in August when he was appointed prime minister.
Only one person, Ruslan Magayayev, has been arrested in the course of the probe, which has produced 110 volumes written by more than 100 investigators. Sixteen people have been detained for questioning and nine are still wanted.
Nikolai Sapozhkov, deputy head of the Interior Ministry's federal investigative committee, who is coordinating the investigative work of the Prosecutor General's Office, FSB and Interior Ministry on the case, said links have been identified between those who carried out the Sept. 8 and Sept. 13 bombings in Moscow.
But the trail goes only as far as Kislovodsk, a city in the southern Stavropol region, where a store of explosives has been found, he said.
Investigators have identified the components of the explosives used in all three cities, the drivers who delivered the explosives and the people who stored them in the cities and who chose which buildings would be attacked, said Alexander Shagako, deputy head of the FSB investigation department.
But, Shagako said, information that those who carried out the explosions were trained in the Kavkaz Islamic training center managed by Khattab and located on Chechen territory, or that the bombings were prepared from this center, has not been proven. He said investigators hope to get answers from Salman Raduyev, a commander in the previous 1994-96 Chechen war who they believe founded the center with Khattab. Raduyev was captured in what the FSB said was a special operation last weekend and is being held in Moscow.
Investigators said they have not determined the source of the explosives believed to have been delivered from Kislovodsk to Moscow.
Similar explosives were found in Urus-Martan and Chiri-Yurt in Chechnya, they said, while instructions on how to use Casio electronic watches in the bomb mechanism were found recently in Duba-Yurt.
FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich said there was no effort made to try to find the origin of the explosives other than in Chechnya.
"The plant [that produces explosives] and stores that included ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder were discovered in Chechnya. That is why it was useless to look for such on Russian territory."
But Sapozhkov said not enough evidence has been found to unmistakably pin the apartment bombings on Chechen terrorists.
"We haven't yet linked those stores [of explosives] in Urus-Martan to our defendants," he said. "It is one of our versions and we are working on it."
Sapozhkov added that at least another year will be needed to complete the investigation.
Shagako, the FSB investigator, said at least 10 blasts were prevented by the law enforcement forces in 1999: six in Moscow, including one on Borisovskiye Prudy; one planned for Sept. 23 in Vladikavkaz; another for Oct. 5 in Pyatigorsk; and two planned to take place in Tatarstan. One blast took place Dec. 1 in the Kirov region when a gas pipeline was blown up.
Fifteen people have been arrested in the Vladikavkaz, Pyatigorsk and Kirov incidents, he said, and all are believed to have been organized by Islamic terrorists.
After the four apartment building blasts, the last Sept. 16 in Volgodonsk, the country was on edge. So when residents of an apartment block in Ryazan saw several suspicious people carrying sacks into their basement Sept. 22, they called the police. The local FSB department said it found the explosive hexagen in the sacks, but two days later FSB headquarters in Moscow announced that it was a training exercise and the sacks contained only sugar.
Recent articles in Novaya Gazeta and Versia - and Obshchaya Gazeta on Thursday - have suggested the Ryazan affair was an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the building.
Acting President Vladimir Putin has dismissed such allegations. "There are no people in the Russian secret services who would be capable of such a crime against their own people,'' Putin said in an interview published by Kommersant newspaper last Friday. "The very allegation is immoral.''
Zdanovich was quoted by Interfax as saying Thursday, "I absolutely understand why events that took place more than half a year ago are coming out now.
"Some political forces are trying to present this as a chain of terrorist acts allegedly prepared by the FSB. To their mind, this became the grounds for the decision to conduct a military operation in Chechnya," the FSB spokesman said. Putin has specifically sited the bombings as a justification for the war.
"I see it also as an effort to cast a shadow on one of the candidates to the presidency," Zdanovich told Interfax.
"Such exercises were conducted in Ryazan, Ivanovo and a few other cities, but in other cities nothing was discovered. In Ivanovo our colleagues acted in a demonstrative way - but no one paid attention."
The Yabloko faction plans to ask the State Duma on Friday to send a request to the Prosecutor General's Office to look into what happened in Ryazan, said Alexander Pivovarov, chief of staff of Yury Shchekochikhin, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta and a State Duma deputy. He said if the Duma rejects the proposal, the faction will file the request itself.
"We must get answers to all the facts raised by Novaya Gazeta," Pivovarov said. "Was hexagen found there or sugar? Was a criminal case opened? Was there a proper test or not? Was it a training exercise and do documents on it exist in the FSB, including its plan, the order to conduct it, the responsible officers? We want them to answer officially."
Novaya Gazeta was kept off the newsstands Thursday when a hacker destroyed the issue before it went to press Wednesday. Interior Ministry investigators were working in its offices Thursday.