MOSCOW – Russian police investigating the deadly Beslan school siege are looking inside their own squad house: One of the attack organizers was allegedly a former cop who disappeared six years ago.
He wouldn't be the first to turn traitor. Turncoats have appeared in the highest ranks of law enforcement in the Caucasus.
Police have been implicated in kidnappings for ransom and accused of allowing Chechen rebels free passage through checkpoints — motivated by either money, sympathy for the fighters' cause or family ties, or a combination of all three.
Vyacheslav Izmailov, a former army major who has worked to resolve kidnappings in Chechnya, said one example of a high-ranking turncoat is a former interior minister of Ingushetia (search), a Russian region neighboring Chechnya.
Daud Korigov, minister from 1997-98, gave rebels the use of a house he owned in the Chechen capital Grozny and was even seen there among captives, Izmailov said.
How many turncoats are there among law enforcement?
"It's not a few," Izmailov told The Associated Press.
Russian authorities say one of the plotters behind the attack in Beslan, where more than 330 people died, was Ali Taziyev, a policeman from Ingushetia. Taziyev was allegedly abducted with another officer in October 1998 while guarding the wife of a government official.
The woman was freed in 2000, and the body of Taziyev's partner was found in Chechnya. Later that year, a court in Ingushetia declared Taziyev dead.
Now, Russian officials believe he actually went over to the rebel side, changing his name to Magomed Yevloyev and taking the nom de guerre "Magas" after the new Ingush capital, the Vremya Novostei newspaper reported.
Taziyev, a Muslim, is accused of becoming an adherent of the extreme Wahhabi (search) sect of Islam — the same as Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden — and forming his own small band of fighters.
Islam is the predominant religion in the Caucasus. North Ossetia (search), where the school siege took place, is unusual in that its predominant faith is Russian Orthodox Christianity.
Taziyev allegedly also spearheaded a June raid in Ingushetia that targeted police and security forces and killed 88 people. There were conflicting statements at the time about whether he died in the attack. Several other police officers were arrested for involvement.
So far, Taziyev's participation hasn't been confirmed in the attack in Beslan, North Ossetia — which shares borders with both Ingushetia and Chechnya (search) — and his body wasn't among the attackers who died there after Russian forces stormed the building Sept. 3.
A top law enforcement officer signaled Wednesday that investigators are taking a hard look at how police and security agencies responded during the school siege.
Meanwhile, students in Beslan returned to class Wednesday, two weeks after the heavily armed militants took more than 1,200 children and adults hostage. The children were accompanied by nervous relatives and armed, camouflage-clad police and the town's schools held a moment of silence to remember the victims.
Questions remain about whether Taziyev was a turncoat while still a policeman — or whether he was turned to the rebel cause by his captors after he was purportedly kidnapped.
It's highly unlikely an honest police officer would have been kidnapped and turned to the rebel side without prior militant ties, said Yulia Latynina, a political analyst and columnist.
"I find it very suspicious that a real policeman who was kidnapped by the Chechen rebels was not killed immediately," she said. "If there's such a story, it's more probable to suspect he was in on the kidnapping from the beginning."
In another recent tale of turncoats, six police lieutenants were accused of reportedly plotting synchronized multiple bombings at polling places during the Aug. 29 election to replace Kremlin-allied Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was killed in a May explosion.
The attack didn't come off and a military commander from Chechnya told the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper that he had helped avert the planned bombings.
The side switching cuts both ways. Kadyrov himself was brazen in his use of former Chechen rebels who emerged from the forests to join his personal guard — a force feared by locals and the Russian army alike.
Kadyrov had also in the past lamented the number of traitors among Chechnya's police forces. During a meeting last year with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said a local police chief in Chechnya knew of 30 turncoats among his forces but was powerless to do anything because he had no hard proof.
With brutal methods used on both sides, political analyst Latynina said trying to differentiate between the two is academic.
"Both police and rebels are just absolutely the same people with the same habits and the same way of life," she said. "They just kill people. The only difference is they kill different people."
Traitors may be motivated by money, threats, sympathy for the Chechen fighters' cause or family ties. Much of the Caucasus region has historically tense relations with Moscow.
Chechens and Ingush are closely related and both ethnic groups were deported to Central Asia during World War II because Soviet leader Josef Stalin feared they would help the invading German army against their longtime Russian foes. Historians consider the Russian moves an excuse to crush a restless ethnic group that had resisted Moscow rule for centuries.
The current war in Chechnya has made the region even more tense, resulting in more checkpoints and spillover violence that could lead to frustration with Moscow. As well, many people from the Caucasus face discrimination and police harassment all across Russia.