Image: Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev.
Ruslan Musayev  /  AP file
Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev in 1999.
updated 9/10/2004 5:55:12 PM ET 2004-09-10T21:55:12

Russia's foreign minister said Friday that Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basayev directed the hostage-taking raid on a school in southern Russia last week and that Arab militants participated in the attack.

The minister, Sergey Lavrov, made the comments in an interview with the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

"I know for certain that Shamil Basayev directly managed this operation," Lavrov said, according to his ministry's transcript of the interview. He did not immediately offer evidence for the claim.

Other Russian officials had said evidence linked Basayev to the attack in a school in a region neighboring Chechnya, but Lavrov's statement was the clearest accusation against the prominent rebel leader.

Basayev has carried out a number of dramatic and bloody hostage-takings in the past in his campaign to drive Russian forces out of the wartorn republic of Chechnya.

Lavrov also said that earlier reports from Russian officials that Arabs were among the attackers had been confirmed. So far, officials have not provided evidence publicly to support claims that about 10 of the hostage-takers were Arabs.

"The information that there were Arabs has been confirmed, as has been information that there were representatives of other nationalities, among them, as I understand, Russians, a Ukrainian, Chechens, Ingush," he said.

At least 330 hostages — many of them children — were killed when the standoff turned to violence at the school in Beslan, in the southern Russian region of North Ossetia, near Chechnya.

Rift with the West
The hostage crisis reignited tensions with Western leaders over the war in Chechnya.

Russia’s foreign minister on Thursday criticized Western countries for granting asylum to Chechen separatists, and said the practice weakens global anti-terror efforts.

Sergey Lavrov’s comments in Russian newspapers and radio and TV broadcasts reflected longtime Russian anger over what Moscow sees as the West’s receptiveness to the rebels, which has been sharpened by a string of recent terrorist attacks that officials link to Chechnya’s separatist militants.

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, meanwhile, reported to President Vladimir Putin that directors for anti-terrorist commissions in the republics of the North Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya, had been created.

Few details were given in Nurgaliyev’s televised comments about how the commissions would work, but the announcement clearly showed the Kremlin’s concern that inefficiency and corruption had undermined security and that the violence could spread in the North Caucasus, where ethnic tensions create a potentially volatile mix.

Bounty on Chechen rebels
The attacks — the downing of two airliners apparently by explosions, a suicide bombing outside a Moscow subway station and last week’s school hostage-taking in the town of Beslan — prompted officials to offer a huge cash reward for information leading to the killing or capture of top Chechen rebel leaders and a pledge to go after terrorists all over the world.

Russia consistently brushes off criticism that its policies in Chechnya and the brutality of its troops there feed resentment that boosts support for rebels waging a five-year insurgency. The Kremlin instead contends that the militants are trained and supported by international terrorist groups, like al-Qaida.

“Granting asylum to people involved in terrorism — and Russia has documented evidence of this — not only causes us regret but also effectively undermines the unity of the anti-terrorist coalition,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.

Apparently to push the international terrorism contention, Lavrov planned to meet Thursday with Rudolph Giuliani, who was mayor of New York City when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks occurred.

Britain, U.S. have granted asylum
Russian officials have been particularly angered by Britain’s granting of asylum to Akhmed Zakayev, an envoy for Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, and the United States’ granting of asylum to Ilyas Akhmadov, who was foreign minister under Maskhadov during Chechnya’s de-facto independence in the late 1990s.

“It is enough to recall Akhmed Zakayev’s statement made from London, in which he plainly and bluntly and without any intricacies blamed what happened in Beslan on the Russian leadership. I believe the cynicism of this statement is clear to everybody,” Lavrov said.

Video: “We are far from accusing the leaders of major countries ... of deliberately preserving this double standard,” he said. “But the inertia is still very strong.”

On Wednesday, the Federal Security Service offered a reward of $10.3 million for information that could help “neutralize” Maskhadov and another Chechen separatist leader.

News of the reward offer came as Russia’s top military commander, Col.-Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, said that “we will take all measures to liquidate terrorist bases in any region of the world,” including launching pre-emptive strikes.

Russian leaders have asserted the right to act preemptively before, flexing the nuclear-armed former superpower’s muscles and tacitly threatening tiny neighboring Georgia that they would pursue Chechen rebels allegedly sheltering on its territory.

Two Russian agents were convicted this year in Qatar for a February car bombing there that killed another Chechen rebel leader, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. Russia, however, has denied involvement in the killing.

Differences over pre-emptive action
The European Union, already at odds with the Bush administration over pre-emptive military strikes, reacted cautiously to the military chief’s statement. EU spokeswoman Emma Udwin suggested it was unclear whether the remarks reflected official Russian policy, saying “we have not heard anything similar from President Putin himself.”

Putin’s Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has said more than once that Russia could use pre-emptive strikes to counter security threats.

Baluyevsky’s statement seemed aimed to ease rising Russian fears following the nearly simultaneous explosions aboard two planes, a Moscow suicide bombing and the horrifying school seizure in the small southern city of Beslan.

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main successor to the Soviet KGB, said Basayev and Maskhadov had been responsible for “inhuman terrorist acts on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that evidence points to involvement by Maskhadov. A man authorities say is the only hostage-taker detained after the attack has said on state-run television that he was told Basayev and Maskhadov ordered the attack.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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