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Basayev Claims Responsibility for Beslan School Hostage Siege - 2004-09-17

A Chechen rebel commander has claimed responsibility for the school hostage siege in southern Russia earlier this month, during which more than 320 hostages were killed, half of them children.

In a statement posted on a Chechen rebel Web site, Shamil Basayev, one of Russia's most wanted men, claims responsibility for the Beslan school siege and for other terrorist attacks, including the downing of two airplanes that occurred a week prior.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the rebel commander a week ago of directing the Beslan school attack.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Mr. Basayev's claim of responsibility shows that he is "inhuman."

Mr. Armitage told a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, Friday that "anyone who would use innocence for political aims is not worthy of existence in the type of societies we enjoy."

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced sweeping political changes this week to deal with terrorism, including having the president name regional governors rather than having them elected.

Wednesday, President Bush expressed concern the changes could undermine democracy.