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Beslan investigation extended until Jan.1 2007 - prosecutor

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VLADIKAVKAZ, June 16 (RIA Novosti) - Prosecutors said Friday that the term of an investigation into the 2004 Beslan school siege had been extended until January 1, 2007.

"We are doing this to eliminate the inconsistencies that the initiative group [of Beslan families] reported to Deputy Prosecutor Vladimir Kolesnikov," said Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel.

The three-day Beslan hostage-taking crisis, which officially claimed 331 lives in September 2004, has been subject to several independent investigations conducted by the Prosecutor General's Office, a parliamentary commission, an unofficial commission of legislators in North Ossetia where the tragedy took place and an initiative group of people affected by the school massacre.

Shepel also said he had sent a letter to a Defense Ministry research institute requesting it to carry out additional studies that would make it possible to recreate the events in the school gym before, during and after a blast went off there.

Special services began a storm of the besieged school on the third day of the hostage-taking after the explosion in the gym where hundreds of children, parents and teachers had been kept without any food or water.

"The initiative group met with ... Kolesnikov [on June 1] and raised the question of inconsistencies in the main case [of the prosecutors]," Shepel said.

A year after the event, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with mothers of children killed or injured in Beslan, who complained about a lack of progress in the investigation. Following the meeting, Putin gave instructions that work be stepped up and sent senior prosecutors to Beslan to re-check available information.

On May 26, Nurpashi Kulayev, 26, reportedly the sole survivor of the 32 gunmen who officials say were involved in the atrocity, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

However, during the trial, witnesses and people injured in the siege said that the number of gunmen was far higher and that some of them had managed to escape the storm. They also accused security forces of provoking the explosion in the gym, which led to chaos and the deaths of many hostages.

On December 28, a parliamentary commission headed by Alexander Torshin, a deputy speaker of the upper chamber, reported on the results of their investigation, which found that local officials in Beslan were at fault for the tragedy.

Torshin said Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and his First Deputy Alexander Chekalin had sent telegrams to North Ossetia's Interior Ministry forewarning it of possible terrorist attacks. But the instructions were not followed, he added.

Torshin continued that federal authorities had determined on September 1 that 1,128 were being held hostage in the school, but local authorities continued to report the figure of 354. Torshin also said that terrorists Shamil Basayev, now Russia's most wanted man, and Aslan Maskhadov had masterminded the siege.

Maskhadov, a former president of Chechnya, was killed in a security operation by Russia's security forces in March 2005.

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