Last Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in contemporary Russia’s history. On September 1, 2004, a group of terrorists sent by the Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, broke into and occupied School Number One in Beslan, North Ossetia. More than 1100 people, most of whom children, were taken hostage for three days. The siege ended after Russian security forces, declining to negotiate with the terrorists, stormed into the school with tanks, incendiary rockets, and heavy weapons. A total of 334 people died, of whom 186 were children.
The siege began on the traditional first day of classes in Russia, with many parents accompanying their kids, teachers, families and friends. The militants entered the school shortly after 9 a.m. and forced all hostages into an overcrowded gym. They immediately displayed violence by executing a number of teachers and parents, men first. The hostage takers also strapped a number of bombs in the gymnasium, and some were wearing suicide belts.
The hostage takers put forward two requests: to speak and negotiate with Aleksander Dzasokhov (president of North Ossetia), Murat Zyazikov (president of Ingushetia), Ruslan Aushev (former president of Ingushetia), Leonid Roshal (a pediatrician), and for Russia to take troops out of Chechnya and proclaim its independence. Russia, from the very first moment, appeared hesitant to listen to these requests and only secured the presence of two of the four requested people. After two days of unsuccessful negotiations, Russian security forces stormed the school with heavy weaponry. At the end of this operation, 31 out of 32 terrorists were killed. Most hostages were freed; however, 334 people were found dead. Half of the victims were children. Ten members of the special forces also lost their lives during the storm.
There have been two very different stories told of what happened during those three days in Beslan. Authorities claim that the storm began after the terrorists set off explosives and blame the Chechen militants for the high death toll. They fully exonerate themselves from failing at negotiations and the Russian security forces from causing a high number of innocent victims. However, explosives expert Yury Savelyev’s independent investigation in 2006, as well as accounts of eyewitnesses and journalists, show otherwise. Apparently, the biggest explosion in the gym, that caused the greatest number of victims, was set off by the special forces’ firing of fire grenades into the school.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) also led its own investigation, which in 2017 concluded that Russian authorities failed to protect the school children, the teachers, and the parents. Moreover, the ECHR also accused Russia of not doing enough to prevent the attack, despite having information that such an act was in the works.
Fifteen years later, Beslan commemorates the day that no Russian citizen will ever be able to forget with a three-day vigil. And after 15 years, the families of the victims are still waiting to hear the truth from the government about what really happened in School Number One. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the meantime, instead of commemorating this tragedy with his people decided to attend the 80th anniversary of the victory over Japan in Khalkhin Gol.