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Sep. 12, 2005
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Searching for Traces of “Shmel” in Beslan School
Yesterday, another forensic investigation was ordered as part of the ongoing criminal case about the hostages in Beslan school. The main goal of the investigation is to establish the causes of the fire, which led to the deaths of many hostages – was it a network of bombs, installed by terrorists, or the attack of the special forces with flamethrowers? In the mean time, the experts already said that the explosion of the bombs created the fire. However, the detonation of the bombs could be caused by shots of thermo baric charges from the portable flame throwers “Shmel”.
Let’s remind that the question of what caused the death of the hostages in Beslan school is still open for the victims of the terrorist act. The investigators from General Prosecutor Office of Southern Federal District think that the main cause of death for majority of the people was shrapnel wounds and explosion traumas. However, the relatives of the perished hostages think that the tragedy happened mostly because of the fire and collapse of the wooden roof in the gym. Also, Beslan residents suspect that the school caught fire after the Special Forces made several shots from the portable flamethrowers into the school building. According to the relatives’ opinion, the soldiers wanted to “smoke out” terrorists from the seized building, but miscalculated the consequences of the flamethrower’s attack, which doomed not only terrorists but hostages as well.

To prove their point of view, the prosecution ordered at least three forensic investigations and one experiment. According to the General Prosecution, the medical professionals involved in investigation established that the hostages died from the bombs’ explosions. However, pyrotechnics specialists from the Federal Emergency Agency and State Firefighting Service of North Osetia, came to the conclusion that the fire and collapsed roof set the bombs off. To reject this conclusion about the flamethrowers’ fault, the prosecution ordered forensic research. This job was given to Military Academy of Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense.

Nikolay Shepel, Deputy General Prosecutor of Russia, reported on the military experts’ findings. Shepel said that there were flamethrower shots made at the direction of the school building. However, all nine charges were thermo baric RPO-A, which do not cause fire like the flame charges RPO-3 or smoke charges RPO-D. To prove their conclusions, the military experts shot several RPO-A at a specially built wooden building. The building was destroyed but it did not catch on fire.

However, the results of the expertise and investigators’ conclusion did not persuade the Beslan residents. During the meeting with President Vladimir Putin on September 2, the victims were insisting on their view of the fire causes. Yesterday, the heads of the General Prosecution Office, ordered another investigation probably after the order from Kremlin. The expertise should try to answer the same question – what was the cause of fire and collapsed roof?

According to Shepel, to perform pyrotechnic investigation the specialists from the Ministry of Justice took samples of the gym’s walls, wooden roof pillars and floors from the school. “The new investigation is ordered to check one more time the validity of the victims’ claims, which they expressed to the president of the country,” Deputy General Prosecutor said.

In the mean time, as Kommersant found out, the conclusions of the previous experts, whose Shepel used to quote, were not as reassuring as the investigation tries to portray. Col. Alexander Mankovsky, head of the Chemical Defense Department at the Academy, who was asked by the prosecution to conduct the investigation, told Kommersant: “Nobody asked us to answer what type of the flamethrowers were used in school. The investigators simply sent us the photos of the empty flamethrowers’ containers with well-marked letters RPO-A, which were taken from the place of the attack, and asked us to explain the physics of flamethrower’s usage.”

Col. Mankovsky, who used to test not only flamethrowers of the RPO-type, but many others as well, is sure that only thermo baric charges were used at the school: “Despite the fact of the existence of all three types of charges (thermo baric, flame and smoke), the army has only thermo baric charges in its arsenal because there is not enough money to produce other charges.”

“We were offered to establish the cause of the traumas received by one of the former hostages,” the expert continues. “Himself, he was insisting that the burns on his skin were created by flamethrower use. We came to the conclusion that the former hostage is mistaken. The zone of the actual burning of RPO-A charges is pretty small and is located inside of large thermo baric zone. The man, who would get inside of the burning zone, would be dead and would not be able to talk to us.”

Col. Mankovsky is sure that RPO-A could not ignite the wooden roof of the building. For better understanding, the specialist proposed to compare the temperature influence, caused by the explosion of this type of charges, with sparklers: it burns bright, but fast; the flame has high temperature, but its front is too small to ignite, for example, a board.

However, according to the military specialist, the fire from such charge is enough to ignite, for instance, gasoline or any other combustible liquid. The terrorists could bring gas canisters into the gym together with the bombs. Moreover, the thermo baric charge could cause a detonation of TNT of plastic based explosive devices, which the gym was rigged with. “It is highly doubtful that the wooden roof could catch fire from the TNT or plastic explosive detonation,” the colonel thinks. “But fresh paint and lacquer, which the gym’s walls and floors were covered with (There were repairs made for Sept.1 at school –Kommersant), could possibly ignite. From there, the fire could jump to wooden pillars of the attic.”
Sergey Dyupin

All the Article in Russian as of Sep. 12, 2005

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