PICS -- TREATED SMOULDERING BESLAN AFTERMATH
As Beslan's school gym smouldered and its townspeople buried their dead -- half of them children -- Channel 4 News drew up a list of questions for Shamil Basaev, the Chechen rebel commander accused of masterminding the bloodbath. We wanted to ask him why. How on earth could killing children help his cause?
PAGE OF QUESTIONS FOLDED AND PASSED HAND TO HAND C/U
We passed our questions to an intermediary in a European capital, requesting a videotaped response.
GRAPHIC MAP FLOATED OVER CONT. TREATED
We have no idea where Besaev is...
we presume he's in Chechnya. Four months went by before we were e-mailed from the Caucasus.
STUDIO TREATED RE-CON
There was a package for us to pick up, we were told. We were to meet a man in a shopping centre in a Middle Eastern city -- we can't even say where. Last week we were passed three video CDs in a box.
LINK PIC V TIGHT SHOT OF CD INTO MACHINE
We've verified that this is Shamil Besaev.
It's the first time he's been seen since Beslan.
He's got our questions up on his laptop. For the next hour, he'd work his way through them.
This was filmed by Basaev's people, we think about three weeks ago.
Behind him, a backcloth reading "There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet."
Imagery prompting association with other Islamist groups, other wars.
"To be honest I didn't originally plan for this to happen in Beslan -- we planned the operation for Moscow or St Petersberg -- or both simultaneously. But we ran out of money. We're not exactly delighted by what happened in Beslan. To be honest, I am even shocked by what happened there, and am still in a state of shock. I didn't expect such cruelty."
But Basaev's not talking about what his people did -- he's talking about the Russians. He blames them for storming the school and killing the children. I never thought they'd do it, he said.
[Notes:Sources: ITN (terrorirst amateur video)]
Yet long before Russia's Spetznaz Special Forces stormed Beslan's School Number One, Basaev's guerrillas were tormenting and terrifying the children -- as was clear from the video they filmed themselves.
[Notes:Sources: Russian pool]
President Vladimir Putin went to pray for the dead and the dying. He was quick to blame Chechens. Shamil Besaev was Russia's most wanted man, the bounty on his head now 10 million dollars. Russia's Osama bin Laden.
We'll never deal with these bastards, Putin said. No one has the moral right to tell us to talk to child-killers.
STATE TELEVISION ADDRESS (4th Sept, 2004)
"Each one of us has suffered deeply and felt in our hearts all that happened in the Russian town of Beslan, where we not only had to deal with murderers but with people who used weapons against defenceless children."
Russia's grown used to terror but Beslan sent seismic shockwaves through the nation.
"You must understand us correctly. We are at war. Russians approve of Putin's policies. They pay their taxes for this war, send their soldiers to this war, their priests sprinkle holy water on the soldiers, and bless their "holy duty" - calling them heroic defenders of the fatherland. But we're just "terrorists". How can they be innocent? Russians are accomplices in this war. It's just they don't all have weapons in their hands."
So convinced is this man -- who sanctions the killing of civilians and children -- that he's not a terrorist that he's chosen to wear a T-shirt emblazoned in cyrillic script "anti-terror".
Yet in his lap, he cradles a six-barrelled grenade-launcher.
(June 1995, Budannovsk Hospital siege)
In his eleven year career as a geurrilla commander, Basaev specialised in extreme violence; hijackings, hostage-takings, bombings. Here he is, ten years ago, when he seized a hospital in southern Russia; 130 died, Basaev escaped.
(October 2002, Moscow)
Two years ago his group took hundreds of theatre-goers hostage in Moscow. 120 died when Russian Special Forces launched a rescue. In the weeks before Beslan, he blew up two Russian planes in mid-air and bombed the Moscow metro.
Then came Beslan. But this time it was children. Basaev claims to have misread how far Putin would push it. Global revulsion allowed Russia to cast this as its very own War on Terror. Beslan may have backfired on Basaev, but despite his professed shock, he told us he'll do it again.
"We are planning Beslan-type operations in the future because we are forced to do so. Today our citizens are disappearing. // Our girls disappear without a trace. They can take anyone. // In order to stop this chaos we have to respond in the same way. /// Cynical though it may seem, we are planning these operations, and we will conduct them, if only to show the world again and again the true face of the Russian regime, the true face of Putin with his Satanic horns, so that the world sees his true face. /// In order to stop the genocide we will stop at nothing.
What he calls "the genocide" is the Russian war in Chechnya, where in one decade between 70,000 and 200,000 people may have died -- out of one-million.
Three years after the first war ended, Putin launched the second. His muscular stance on the rebellious republic propelled him into the presidency six years ago.
But the war is becoming deeply unpopular in Russia: as many as 20,000 of its own soldiers may have have died there too. Video files posted on Basaev's website show how.
But having already said there were more Belans planned, Basaev also argued too many had already died.
"That is why we are ready to stop the war, and as Maskhadov says to start negotiations without preconditions. But there is one condition. That is the non-negotiable and full withdrawal of the occupying Russian troops from our territory.... If the Russians withdraw their troops and cease the genocide of our people, I am ready to stand before a court, and I will accept any decision of the court with due deference."
But Basaev knows the Russians won't pull out of Chechnya; that's non-negotiable for Putin. He's in too deep.
Basaev, filmed here in a violent operation he led in another neighbouring republic last June, warned in our interview that Russia's actions in Chechnya would, in his words, boomerang back, enveloping not only Russia but Europe and the wider world.
Yet as he sat there setting out his justification for jihad, quoting the Koran, Winston Churchill and a Chinese philospher, his motives grew darker, more primal.
"This is a war between the descendents of monkeys - about whom your Darwin wrote - and the descendents of Adam, glory be to Allah. /// This is the war of the descendants of Adam and Eve to put the animals in their place. I commit this to the great God and those who have taken the path to jihad, the direct path to God. Allah-hu akbar.
And with that invocation of the Almighty, Shamil Basayev, jihadi warrior, philosopher, child-killer, freedom fighter ended the interview.
Basaev had tried to justify what he'd done in Beslan last September.
But is there any explanation as to how it ever came to this?