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Beslan: Vow to put rebel on trial

Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, seen in a 1999 file photo.
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Putin touts anti-terrorism initiatives, but some say he's making a power play

Footage taken by hostage takers inside the school gym.

Political fallout over the attack hurts Putin.
Vladimir V. Putin

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- A Chechen rebel leader is vowing to bring to justice warlord Shamil Basayev over the Beslan school hostage-taking that ended with the deaths of more than 300 people, according to a posting on a Chechen rebel Web site.

"I responsibly announce that after the end of the war, individuals guilty of conducting illegal acts, including Samil Basayev, will be passed to a court of law," Aslan Maskhadov, who frequently uses that Web site to post remarks, said on Friday.

"I announce that the leadership of the Chechen Republic and the armed forces under my control ... had nothing to do with this terrorist act," according to Maskhadov's statement.

Maskhadov, who was president of a de facto independent Chechnya for more than two years in the late 1990s, was responding to Basayev's claim last week to have masterminded the raid in North Ossetia in southern Russia.

The siege started on September 1 when a group of terrorists stormed School No. 1 and took about 1,200 adults and children captive. Two days later it ended with the deaths of at least 339 hostages, about half of them children.

Basayev served as Maskhadov's prime minister for six months but quit in 1998 when he established a network of military officers that soon devolved into rival warlords. Maskhadov is regarded as a moderate, in contrast to the more hard-line Basayev.

Both men have been on the run since Russian forces moved back into Chechnya in 1999 to crush the separatist movement.

Maskhadov denies any link with the Beslan attack but Russian officials continue to assert he and Basayev cooperated in the bloody operation and have put a $10 million bounty on both men.

"The organization of this criminal act against little children, teenagers and their parents in Beslan was organized by Maskhadov and Basayev in close cooperation," said army spokesman Ilya Shabalkin in a statement, Reuters said.

"Maskhadov, with help from such terrorist acts organized by Shamil Basayev, wants to force Russia to make concessions to the bandit groups so he can once again become so-called legitimate president."

Basayev posted a ranting and rambling e-mail message on earlier this month, saying his "Shahid Brigade Riadus-Salahina" carried out a series of "successful militant operations." (Full story)

In addition to the siege in Beslan, he claimed responsibility for a Moscow metro bombing that killed 10 people and explosions that downed two passenger jets, killing 90. It was impossible to confirm whether the message was genuine.

President Vladimir Putin later said Russia was "seriously preparing to act preventively against terrorists," the Interfax news agency reported. (Full story)

CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.

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