Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basayev directed the hostage-taking raid on a school in southern Russia.
“I know for certain, that Shamil Basayev directly managed this operation,” Mr Lavrov said, according to his ministry’s script from an interview with the Al-Jazeera satellite channel.
Other Russian officials had said evidence linked Basayev to last week’s attack in a school in a region neighbouring Chechnya, but Mr Lavrov’s statement was the clearest accusation against the prominent rebel leader.
He also said that Russian officials’ statements that there were Arabs 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.
Hundreds of Russians demonstrated in front of the British and US embassies in Moscow yesterday, accusing their governments of double standards on terrorism and angrily demanding the extradition of two prominent Chechen separatists to whom they have granted asylum.
The crowd, mainly of students, outside the British embassy, urged Downing Street to extradite Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev, who was been granted refugee status despite dogged efforts by Russian authorities to persuade the British government to hand him over.
The protests came after Russia’s foreign ministry criticised Britain and the US.
President Vladimir Putin has also said some element in Western governments are hindering Russia’s fight against terrorism and yesterday – apparently responding to widespead public dismay over the bloody school siege – agreed to the formation of a parliamentary investigative commission.
Mr Putin had said no public inquiry would be held, although an internal investigation would be conducted into the crisis that ended in a chaos of gunfire and explosions.
At least 330 hostages were killed; scores of people remain missing
Although the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, which aims to form the commission, largely follows Mr Putin’s lead, the commission could constitute a relatively independent and public review of the crisis.
The seizure of the school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan and its bloody conclusion raised serious questions about the capabilities of Russian law-enforcement and security agencies.
In a meeting shown on Russian television, Sergei Mironov, chairman of the Federation Council, told Mr Putin that the chamber aimed to form the investigative commission.
Mr Putin agreed, saying “we are thoroughly interested in receiving a complete, objective picture of the tragic events connected with the seizure of the hostages”.
North Ossetia’s parliament, meanwhile, approved a new prime minister to head the government that was dismissed earlier in the week in the wake of angry demonstrations over the authorities’ failure to prevent the attack.
Alan Boradzov, the republic’s former transportation minister, was nominated by President Alexander Dzasokhov, who sacked the regional government but did not step down himself.