On September 1, 2004 the first day of school for children from School Number One in the town of Beslan in North Ossetia-Alania, an autonomous republic in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation, more than 1,100 people, including 777 schoolchildren were taken hostage by a group of armed Chechen terrorists who demanded an end to the Second Chechen War.
The bloody three-day siege which has been called Russia’s 9/11 ended with a series of explosions and a chaotic gunfight involving Russian military, local men with firearms and the guerrilla fighters who had infiltrated the school. At least 334 hostages were killed, including 186 children as a result. Hundreds more were wounded or reported missing.
Motives for Beslan School Hostage Crisis
While it is widely reported that the primary motive for the Beslan school hostage crises was the demand for full withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and recognition of Chechen independence, Russian negotiators said the terrorists never explicitly stated their demands. It is also sometimes reported that the rebels had connections with al-Qaeda but that seems to be what’s always said when Islamists commit an act of terrorism. That Chechen extremists are big time financed by the CIA, chief financiers of al-Qaeda is pretty solid, therefore a connection between the two does exist.
People Responsible for Beslan School Massacre
Responsibility for the massacre was claimed by Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev. He died in Ingushetia in July 2006 although circumstances of his death are disputed.
Two UK citizens of Algerian origin – Osman Larussi and Yacine Benalia were among active participants in the attack. Kamel Rabat Bouralha, also a UK citizen linked to the attack was arrested immediately following the attack trying to leave Russia.
Abu Omar al-Saif of Saudi Arabia is believed to have been the chief financer of the Beslan School Massacre. He was killed in Dagestan in December 2005.
Abu Zaid Al-Kuwaiti of Kuwait is said to be one of the masterminds of the hostage taking. He died in Ingushetia in February 2005.
Preparations for the Attack
School Number One was one of seven schools in Beslan, a town of 35,000 people. Survivors of the crises testified that captors made them to remove the weapons and explosives from the caches hidden throughout the school. That proved the rebels were able to gain access to the school during the 2 months long summer school holidays. The militants also constructed a sniper’s nest on the roof of the gymnasium sometimes during summer holidays.
Most of the estimated 1,200 hostages were crammed into a small gym that was 10 metres wide and 25 metres long. There they spent 52 hours of captivity. On Thursday (Day 2), the terrorists released 26 hostages but refused to allow food or water supplies into the school. On the morning of day 3, the terrorists allowed emergency workers in to retrieve bodies of hostages who had been killed during initial shootouts.
The floor of the gymnasium was peppered with mines and bombs connected by cables. More bombs were taped to the walls and suspended from the ceiling. Two large explosive devices were placed in the basketball hoops. Children were placed along the windows to act as human shields. The terrorists recorded a video inside the gym to show how well wired it was. The video was broadcast by Russian TV.
As the temperatures soared in the small place stuffed full of people, many hostages began to faint. To deal with heat and dehydration, they took off their clothes and drank urine.
Just before 9am on Friday September 3, 2004 emergency workers pulled up next to the entrance with a van and entered the school. Minutes later, an explosion occurred inside the gymnasium followed by gunfire. Russian investigators said the explosion happened as the hostage takers tried to rewire the bombs, but witnesses suggested that a terrorist standing on a dead man’s switch was shot which triggered the blast. During the ensuing chaos, several hostages managed to escape.
Moments later, second explosion shook the building and the roof over the gym caved in. Russian special forces stormed the school and at 10:05 reported that they were nearly in full control of the building. The gunfire continued until 10:40 when ground troops were assisted by three APCs.
As the troops moved in, crowds of half naked, severely dehydrated, horror struck children ran out of the school. Unfortunately, hundreds had already been killed.
After the end of the crisis, Russian authorities reported that their special forces killed all but one of a total of 32 attackers. Some of the survivors however said that there were more than 32 hostage takers in total.
Captured terrorist Nur-Pashi Kulayev was found hiding under a truck a short distance from the school. He was later sentenced to life in prison.
Beslan School Massacre Photos
Below is a gallery of photos from the Beslan School Massacre. This was a major event and one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the 21st century so I will expand on this post with more photos, including photos of dead terrorists and videos. Those will be included in future posts: