Russian prosecutors claim terrorists could seize Nalchik planes

A senior Russian prosecutor said Friday that his office was investigating allegations that militants who raided a southern city earlier this month might have planned to use civilian planes in terror attacks. Russia's Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel said investigators were probing the motives behind militants' plans to seize an airport in the city of Nalchik and whether they had planned to use planes located there for terror attacks, according to a statement released by his office.

At least 139 people died in the brazen daytime assault on Nalchik, the regional capital of Russia's Caucasus province of Kabardino-Balkariya, including the 94 accused attackers, according to official tallies.

Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, the purported author of modern Russia's worst terrorist attacks, has claimed he was behind the Oct. 13 assault.

Basayev said the attacks were carried out by militants affiliated with the Chechen rebels, but that Chechen fighters were not involved, indicating an increasingly organized effort to set up militant cells throughout the region that take direction from him, the AP says.

Shepel's statement followed official statements that Russian authorities had received a tip-off on the militants' plan to seize the airport at Nalchik. Some media speculated that the militants might have intended to use aircraft for suicide attacks such as those in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

Shepel's aide, Sergei Prokopov, said investigators had immediately began investigating motives behind the militants' plan to seize the airport but had not come to any specific conclusions yet.

Officials said they had tightened security at the airport and other facilities around Nalchik prior to the raid which helped quickly defeat the attackers.