Russian Federal Security Service
This is a portion of a report prepared by the Russian government pursuant to a request from the National Academy of Sciences for an authoritative government perspective on the attack. It was widely accepted by Russian and American terrorism experts as a reasonable account of the horrific incident and provided important details of key issues that had been controversial.
In 2004 there was a sharp increase in terrorism in Russia, culminating in the devastating events in Beslan. It was the year of the presidential election, so the results of Vladimir Putin’s first term were being debated. The Chechen public election was also held in 2004 and was supposed to consolidate the republic’s turn toward a peaceful life. At the same time, this was also the year of the 60th anniversary of the forced departure of tens of thousands of people of the Caucasus to distant lands. Chechen fighters marked such important dates with bloody acts.
At the same time, there were other reasons for increased terrorist activities. For example, the numerous terrorist attacks, sabotage, murders, and abductions during 1998–2004 did not lead to any politically significant changes, with serious complaints against the leaders of the bandit groups by their foreign financial sponsors. To prove their professional suitability, the revolutionary leaders in Chechnya felt that they had to carry out a series of brutal terrorist acts, as described below. In February there was a metro explosion in Moscow killing 39 people and wounding 350 others.
In May in Grozny, an explosive device was detonated at an outdoor concert killing seven people, including Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov. In June, 300 Chechen bandits took control of two towns in Ingushetia. In August, 300 armed bandits set up checkpoints on the roads in Grozny and for 3 hours attacked police stations in various parts of the city with fatalities including 25 police officers and ordinary citizens. In August, a terrorist attack at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow led to crashes of two airliners with the death of 90 crew members and passengers. Shortly thereafter, a suicide bomber killed 10 people and wounded 50 more at a Moscow metro station.
Then bandits in the North Caucasus, in constant contact with Middle East compatriots, particularly in the United Arab Emirates, headed for Beslan, bringing an arsenal of weapons, equipment, and explosive devices with them. After learning of their seizure of hostages at the Beslan school, police blocked off access to the school, and Russian troops from the Ministry of the Interior arrived. Within the cordoned-off area, the ministry immediately focused on locating the hostages in a complex area of buildings where the school was located.
A large number of hostages were held in the gym, while groups of 100 or more were in other school buildings. All locations had been mined, and the authorities quickly concluded that it would not be possible to disarm the mines since they would be detonated automatically if not under terrorist control. Also, a significant number of the invaders were under the influence of narcotics. The criminals limited contact with the outside and killed 21 people the first day, while denying water or food of any kind to the remainder.
The authorities tried to negotiate with the invaders, bringing in well-known personalities from the region to assist. Fortunately, 216 mothers and children were released. Additional local residents were then brought in to also participate in the negotiations, and the authorities offered to exchange prisoners from previous engagements for the release of additional hostages. They offered a monetary ransom with the promise of return of the bandits to Chechnya unimpeded. At the same time, the terrorists requested sovereignty for Chechnya and the removal of all federal troops from the republic.
Suddenly, two explosions took place in the gymnasium, and fire broke out. Reportedly, the terrorists were intoxicated and apparently lost control of the explosive devices. In the panic that followed, some hostages attempted to run from the building and were shot. The security services then undertook the task of systematically evacuating the hostages while killing the terrorists. This task was complicated by the sudden involvement of local residents with
arms also entering the fray. Freeing the hostages and destroying the terrorists took more than 10 hours.
A total of 330 people were killed at Beslan, including 186 children; and 31 terrorists were killed. No terrorists managed to hide. One was arrested, and he was from Chechnya. The subsequent investigation quickly identified 17 of the terrorists, including their leader who resided in Chechnya but was an Ingushetian by nationality. Others could not be quickly identified. Five police officers were promptly accused of negligence, and six individuals were soon arrested for aiding the terrorists.
The events in Beslan, the armed attacks in Ingushetia and Grozny in the summer of 2004, and the terrorist attacks in Moscow were all part of a unified strategy of the ideologues of international terrorism to expand their influence as widely as possible, create an atmosphere of universal fear, cause the population to mistrust the capabilities of the government, and force the government leaders to enter into negotiations with bandit leaders. The leaders of the Chechen fighters continued making focused efforts to spread instability not only to Chechnya but also to the majority of adjoining territories.
As the Russian leadership quickly acknowledged, the economic picture in the North Caucasus region remained pitiful; therefore, the region was simultaneously a victim of the bloody terror and a platform for its replication. The roots of terrorism were the result of massive unemployment and the lack of an effective social policy.
Several measures were promptly taken following the events in Beslan.
- A presidential commission was created to prevent and suppress terrorist acts and to detect and eliminate the causes and conditions that allowed them to be planned and carried out. Operational antiterrorism management groups were formed in all regions of the Southern Federal District. They were assigned the task of coordinating all military and law enforcement activities in the region.
- The State Duma addressed the region’s socioeconomic problems, which were linked to 40 existing laws. One important legal change called for the military authorities to counter terrorism not only by force but also with the law, involving all government agencies. Leadership in countering terrorism was given to the Federal Security Service.
- Mechanisms for promoting economic development were established with emphasis on activities such as transportation, hydroelectric
- power, traditional agriculture, enterprises of the military-industrial complex, and ecotourism.
- In the sphere of international cooperation, more active participation in U.N. activities, deliberations of G-8 countries, activities of the NATO-Russia Council, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Council for Europe was encouraged.
U.S.-Russia cooperation was considered essential, including strengthening control over trade of weapons, extradition of terrorists, and closing channels for financing of terrorist organizations. This cooperation could be linked to a timely analysis of experience of many countries, particularly the United States, in the struggle against terrorists. Who is to blame? How did such an event become possible? What must change? What recommendations will promote success for specific issues facing Russia?
For additional information: Kovalenko, G. 2006. “On the Events in Beslan,” in Countering Urban Terrorism in Russia and the United States: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.