Beslan Child Slaughter Gallery 1
by Lewis Loflin
The Beslan school hostage crisis (also referred to as the Beslan school siege or Beslan massacre) of early September 2004 lasted three days and involved the capture of over 1,100 people as hostages (including 777 children), ending with the death of over 380 people. The crisis began when a group of armed Islamic separatist militants, mostly Ingush Muslims, Chechen Muslims, and Arabs, occupied School Number One (SNO) in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia (an autonomous republic in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation) on 1 September 2004.
The hostage-takers were the Riyadus-Salikhin Battalion, sent by the Chechen separatist warlord Shamil Basayev, who demanded recognition of the independence of Chechnya at the UN and Russian withdrawal from Chechnya. They wanted to establish an Islamic Republic.
On the third day of the standoff, Russian security forces entered the building with the use of tanks, incendiary rockets and other heavy weapons after the terrorists start executions. At least 334 hostages were killed as a result of the crisis, including 186 children, with a significant number of people injured and reported missing.
The event led to security and political repercussions in Russia, most notably it contributed to a series of federal government reforms consolidating power in the Kremlin and strengthening of the powers of the President of Russia. As of 2011, aspects of the crisis in relation to the militants remain contentious: Questions remain regarding how many militants were involved, the nature of their preparations and whether a section of the group had escaped.
Questions about the Russian government's management of the crisis have also persisted, including allegations of disinformation and censorship in news media, whether the journalists who were present at Beslan were allowed to freely report on the crisis, the nature and content of negotiations with the militants, allocation of responsibility for the eventual outcome, and perceptions that excessive force was used.
Initially, the identity and origin of the attackers were not clear. It was widely assumed from day two that they were separatists from nearby Chechnya, even as Putin's presidential Chechen aide Aslambek Aslakhanov denied it, saying "they were not Chechens. When I started talking with them in Chechen, they had answered: 'We do not understand, speak Russian.'" Freed hostages said that the hostage-takers spoke Russian with accents typical of Caucasians.
Even though in the past Putin had rarely hesitated to blame the Chechen separatists for acts of terrorism, this time he avoided linking the attack with the Second Chechen War. Instead, he blamed the crisis on the "direct intervention of international terrorism", ignoring the nationalist roots of the crisis.
The Russian government sources initially claimed that nine of the terrorists in Beslan were Arabs and one was a black African (called "a negro" by Andreyev), though only two Arabs were identified later. Funding for this attack like later Muslim attacks against civilians was believed to be from the Saudis and Arab Emirates.
On 17 September 2004, radical Chechen guerilla commander Shamil Basayev, at this time operating autonomously from the rest of the North Caucasian rebel movement, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the Beslan school siege, which was strikingly similar to the Chechen raid on Budyonnovsk in 1995 and the Moscow theatre crisis in 2002, incidents in which hundreds of Russian civilians were held hostage by the Chechen rebels led by Basayev. Basayev said his Riyadus-Salikhin "martyr battalion" had carried out the attack and also claimed responsibility for a series of terrorist bombings in Russia in the weeks before Beslan crisis.
He said that he originally planned to seize at least one school in either Moscow or Saint Petersburg, but lack of funds forced him to pick North Ossetia, "the Russian garrison in the North Caucasus". Basayev blamed the Russian authorities for "a terrible tragedy" in Beslan.
Basayev claimed that he had miscalculated the Kremlin's determination to end the crisis by all means possible. He said he was "cruelly mistaken" and that he was "not delighted by what happened there", but also added to be "planning more Beslan-type operations in the future because we are forced to do so."
However, it was the last major act of terrorism in Russia until 2009, as Basayev was soon persuaded to give up indiscriminate attacks by the new rebel leader Abdul-Halim Sadulayev, who made Basayev his second-in-command but banned hostage taking, kidnapping for ransom, and operations specifically targeting civilians. (Wiki)
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