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Russian police allow militants through checkpoints

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Posted on Sat, Sep. 11, 2004
Russia's worst enemy may be its own police

Long rampant with bribery and corruption, Russia's police and military are suspected of opening the door to terror attacks in the name of profit.


Associated Press

MOSCOW - The heavily armed militants behind a deadly school raid in southern Russia passed through a region dotted by checkpoints whose chief purpose is to keep violence from spreading outside the breakaway Chechnya region.

How did they manage? To many people here, suspicion falls on police corruption that could be crippling Russian attempts to fight terrorists.

The school hostage-taking in Beslan and other recent terror attacks illustrate how bribery -- particularly in the police and military -- provides an opening to terrorists. The military often supplies weapons to the same enemy it seeks to vanquish.

For Russians long accustomed to bribing police officers, public housing managers, even nursery school directors, the corruption allegations aren't surprising.

Yet outrage over the school attack, which left more than 330 dead, has been fueled by reports suggesting that bribery played a role. First, the 30 attackers got through a region with many checkpoints without any apparent problem.

Citing police sources, the Russky Kuryer newspaper reported Thursday that two attackers, identified as Nur-Pashi Kulayev and Mairbek Shaybekkhanov, had been arrested in 2002 and 2003 but freed after what the paper said was a ''substantial'' payoff to police.

At an antiterror rally next to the Kremlin on Monday, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov asked furiously why the terrorists had new, high-quality Russian weapons.

Some reports suggest the weapons may have come in part from assaults on police facilities by militants in neighboring Ingushetia in June.

A one-time Ingush policeman, Ali Taziyev, is believed to have led the school seizure, and news reports identify him as the suspected leader of the Ingush assaults. Four Ingush police have been arrested on suspicion of assisting the attackers in those raids.

Even President Vladimir Putin, who has vowed repeatedly to crush the militants, mentioned the topic in an address to the country. ''We have let corruption affect the judicial and law enforcement sphere,'' he said.

Beslan hostages told journalists that the kidnappers taunted them, saying they had bribed their way past checkpoints. A police spokesman rejected those accusations, saying the terrorists used back roads that had fallen out of use and weren't patrolled.

The accusations were an echo of the 1995 raid by Chechen guerrilla leader Shamil Basayev on the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk, where about 2,000 people were taken hostage at a hospital. Basayev said later in an interview that his band of fighters had intended to drive to Moscow, but the bribe money ran out.

Russian soldiers are widely believed to be a source of weapons for Chechen fighters; bribes to pass checkpoints in Chechnya are a near-universal practice; the prices for getting ID papers are well-known.

The school shooting came amid reports of bribery surrounding the apparent suicide bombings of two Russian airliners that crashed within minutes of each other last month, killing all 90 people aboard.

Police reportedly arrested an illegal ticket scalper at Moscow's Domodedovo International Airport who helped the Chechen women suspected in the attacks. The man reportedly was a former employee of Sibir airlines, which operated one of the planes.

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