(Prague, September 1, 2004) -- RFE/RL's Russian Service, known in Russia as Radio Svoboda (Liberty), has two correspondents on the scene in the republic of North Ossetia where gunmen today stormed a school and took 150 children, teachers and parents hostage in the town of Beslan.
The small town is currently sealed to reporters and civilians, but RFE/RL correspondents Dmitrii Aleksandrov and Musa Hasanov are as close as permissible and are filing a stream of reports for RFE/RL's flagship "Time of Liberty" news and information program. Interviews with some of the children who managed to escape as attackers rushed the building, as well as with relatives of the hostages and with local law enforcement representatives were broadcast.
In addition to its correspondents in Beslan, RFE/RL has four other correspondents in Moscow working the story from the Russian FSB security headquarters, the Kremlin and other involved government offices.
This evening's "Time of Liberty" broadcast, in addition to breaking news on the school seizure, provided context and analysis so that listeners could try to make sense of the recent wave of terrorist attacks in Russia. Scheduled to appear on "Time of Liberty," which is produced jointly in Moscow and Prague, are Russian Institute of Oriental Studies Deputy Director Vladimir Isayev, writer Yulia Uzil, author of "Allah's Brides--the Faces and Fates of Female Suicide Bombers in Russia," and Andrei Piontkovsky, a leading Russian independent political analyst and commentator in Moscow.
Increasingly, Russians are suggesting links between international terrorist groups and groups within Russia to explain the wave of violence that has hit the country, beginning with the twin plane crashes last week, the school today, and the suicide bomber yesterday at Rizhskaya metro station in northern Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday "the link between destructive elements, terrorists who are still active in Chechnya (and international terrorism) has been proven once again" and that investigators are probing a possible link between the al-Qaeda terrorist network and Chechen separatists widely believed to have downed the two Russian planes. Russian experts appearing on RFE/RL's "Time of Liberty" program said yesterday that the timing of the events, the sophistication of the planning and other factors point to direction from abroad to local groups in Russia. Russian authorities have said traces of explosives from the site of the plane crashes are similar to the explosive used in yesterday's incident, which killed at least ten people and wounded 50 others.
RFE/RL's "Time of Liberty" morning program which begins at 5 am in Ekaterinburg, 6 am in Moscow, and so forth, rolling across the time zones in Russia, includes a daily, live, call-in session with listeners answering the question of the day. Today's response was unusually heavy with people telephoning the Moscow studio from as far away as Kuban and other cities outside the Moscow region. Russian Service Director Maria Klein says the question of the day was "Do you believe the government has imposed sufficient security measures?" and answers were coming in at a rate of one phone call a minute. She said a surprising majority of the callers urged an end to Russia's military action in Chechnya.
Andrei Piontkovsky, interviewed on yesterday's "Time of Liberty" about the female suicide bomber at the Rizhskaya Metro station, stressed that Russia must either level Chechnya in "a war to the end" or adopt a more flexible position and start serious negotiations with Chechen rebels. "There is no other solution," Piontkovsky said.
Russian-language transcripts of "Time of Liberty" reports can be found on the Radio Liberty website, at www.svoboda.org/ll/
. English-language reporting and analysis of the North Ossetia hostage standoff can be found on the RFE/RL website -- At Least Two Dead In North Ossetian School Standoff
by Jeremy Bransten and Who Is Behind The Hostage Taking In North Ossetia?
by Liz Fuller.
RFE/RL's Russian Service broadcasts are on the air 24 hours of a day, seven days a week, with programs produced in Prague and the service's Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg Bureaus and transmitted to listeners via shortwave, satellite and AM and FM signals provided by local affiliate stations in Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Ukraine. Russian Service programming is also available via the Internet, at the service's website www.svoboda.org
and at www.rferl.org
For more information and contacts concerning the hostage standoff in North Ossetia, please contact Donald Jensen in Washington (firstname.lastname@example.org; 202-457-6947) or Russian Service Director Maria Klein in Prague (email@example.com; ô¾221-123-113).