Beslan School Hostage Crisis (beslan) wrote,
Beslan School Hostage Crisis

September 1st, 2004.

On August 25th, 2004, members of the gang that plotted to seize the school in Beslan started gathering in the woods near the Psedakh village, Ingushetia (roughly 30 km away from Beslan). The gang was led by a 31-year old Ingush - Ruslan Khuchbarov also known as "Polkovnik" ("The Colonel") and "Rasul". Khuchbarov reported to Shamil Basayev - a well-known terrorist on mission to turn Russian North Caucasus into an independent Islamic state.

Basayev (right) and Khuchbarov at the terrorists' camp. Basayev was briefly present to conduct some training.

Vladimir Khodov aka "Abdullah" with one of the terrorists. Khodov was especially noted by the surviving hostages for his cruelty.

Terrorist from the photo above. It's quite possible he has no idea what the mission is. Some gang members including at least one woman thought they'd be attacking MVD (Russian police) headquarters.

Guns. Contrary to a popular misconception the sniper rifle on the lower photo is not a "Vintorez" but rather a "VSK-94". It was used by Polkovnik and disappeared from the school on September 3rd leading some to believe that it's owner escaped with it. It is a lot more likely that this reliable, quality weapon was stolen (taken as a trophy). It's owner certainly didn't go anywhere. Except, hopefully, hell.

On September 1st, around 7am-7.30am, the gang left the camp. This is the map of their route (black line with top being the starting point). A popular belief that they bribed local authorities to get through is remotely possible in theory but a bribe was not necessary given the size of the group. They used old roads in the woods that local smugglers of alcohol use (Beslan is known for its alcohol producing plants) and simply went around the very few road blocks.

MVD major Sultan Gurazhev, a local police inspector in the Khurikau village, claimed that he saw the terrorists' vehicle, chased it down and was taken hostage, while four gang members sat in his car, and then fled while the takeover was in progress. Certainly, he became a suspect but no proof of his criminal involvement was ever established. On the photo - Gurazhev testifying during the Kulayev's trial. Kulayev was the only surviving terrorist. He is standing on the left, behind the glass.

In the meantime, a celebration of a new school year commenced in the schoolyard. In Russia, first day of school is a huge event attended by many family members. The school yard was packed with people. It's impossible to give an exact figure but around 1,200-1,300 people were present.

Celebration being filmed by happy parents. Later, terrorists would use this camera for their own purposes. The letters in the middle say "Time of fun". Whatever terrorists would film later had the same title. Talk about the most cynical irony...

Rough plan of the school and adjacent territory. Don't believe the English Wikipedia article, which, by the way, is ridiculous in many instances. Three reasons for that: 1) incompetent editors 2) incompetent sources 3) intentional disinformation of readers.

Satellite image of the school. Its yard had two narrow entrances/exits. Most people were inside the yard at the time of the attack (highlighted in pink). The terrorists (their movements is shown with red arrows) blocked both exits and herded everyone inside.

School yard after the massacre.

People were forced to break windows and climb through inside. Ruslan Friyev, local resident, became the first victim of the terrorists.

After the hostages were pushed inside, the terrorists drove the GAZ-66 truck to the main entrance and unloaded their gear, which included ammo, weapons, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), food and other supplies. The truck stayed by the entrance until September 4th when it was driven away by the Prosecutor's office employees (detectives).

Two terrorists were wounded (Khodov in the arm and another one in the stomach) and one terrorist was shot dead by the locals during the takeover. North Caucasus residents are very well-armed despite heavy punishments prescribed by the law for illegal ownership of a firearm. At the time of the attack, a town of about 35,000 had over 2,200 of registered firearms (1,600+ smooth-bore and 600+ rifled units). The number of illegal arms is hard to estimate. The decay of the body left the terrorist unidentified and led to rumors of an African mercenary presence in the gang. That rumor is false.

After the hostages were inside, the terrorists demonstrated their seriousness by shooting Ruslan Betrozov, the father of two. Betrozov tried calming people down and one of the terrorists shot him point blank. His body was left on the floor for two hours. Both his sons were also killed on Day 3 by the blast. After shooting Betrozov, the terrorists started setting up IEDs. They used three main types of IEDs to rig the gym:

OZM-72 (under the backboard on the photo) - an anti-personnel fragmentation mine altered to be connected to an electricity-activated explosive chain, which was extremely elaborate and planned ahead. Also used, were "classic" homemade IEDs - plastic bottles with explosives and metal fragments (one can be seen hanging in the basketball hoop).

MON-90 - a Claymore-shaped anti-personnel land mine with an RDX (PVV-5A) charge of 6.2 kg and over 2,000 metal fragments. Two of them were placed in the main gym. Both were altered accordingly to fit the master chain. On the photo, it is sitting next to the terrorist. A round shape to his left is another OZM-72. The blood on the floor is Ruslan Betrozov's.

The gym is packed with hostages.

Ruslan Gappoyev - another victim. He was outside and was shot from the school while trying to approach it to save his wife and daughter who were rushed inside. His daughter died on Day 3. His wife lived. If you call that life.

Around 10.30 an anti-crisis committee ("HQ" hereafter) was formed. It was originally led by the President of North Ossetia Aleksandr Dzasokhov, who was almost immediatelly replaced by the Chief of FSB North Ossetia - Valery Andreev (pictured above).

Between 11am and 12pm the terrorists sent out a hostage, Larisa Mamitova, with a note, which said:

89287383374 We demand for negotiations president of Rep[ublic] Dzasokhov, Zyazikov presid[ent] of Ingushetia Rashailo ped[iatric] doctor. If one of us is killed, [we'll] shoot 50 people, if wound [one of us] will kill 20, if kill 5 of us we'll blow up everything. If turn off light, communication for a minute, we'll shoot 10 people.

There was confusion with "Rashailo". Mamitova, who wrote the note, was very nervous and didn't quite hear what Polkovnik told her to write, so she thought he was asking for a well-known pediatrician Leonid Roshal, who acted as a negotiator during the 2002 Moscow Theater siege ("Nord-Ost"). When Roshal arrived, Polkovnik's reaction was: "I'm not sick. I don't need a doctor". "Rashailo" was most likely Vladimir Rushailo who held a post of a Secretary of Russian Security Council until March 2004 and was actively involved with counter-terrorism in North Caucasus.

Сlose-up of the note. The phone was written incorrectly and the HQ couldn't get in contact with the terrorists. An attempt to get in contact by sending the FSB negotiator Valery Zangionov and North Ossetia mufti Ruslan Valgasov with a loud speaker failed: the terrorists opened fire as soon as they saw these two approaching the building (no one was injured).

The terrorists kept firing at everything around the perimeter. It wasn't a constant full-auto fire like some journalists like to describe but they made sure to pre-sight the territory and keep everyone away. Around 3pm they shot a grenade from a grenade launcher setting fire in one of the apartments in building # 39 on an adjacent street - School Alley.

Same fire in the apartment. Different angle. Also on the photo, on the left, is the gym full of hostages.

End result of the fire.

Around 4pm an explosion was heard inside the building. One of the female suicide bombers blew up in the second floor classroom killing men-hostages who were barricading the building with chairs, desks and books since about 10am. Among the killed was the 71-year old Ivan Karlov, the school boiler-room operator. During the takeover he managed to hide about 15 people in a tiny room in a boiler room but was taken hostage himself. An ordinary man - an extraordinary hero. 15 people who hid in that room successfully escaped later that day.

Hostages reported that not long before the female bomber’s explosion that they heard her screaming: “You told me it will be a police station! I’m not going to go against the kids!” . As said above, some terrorists had no idea what they'll be attacking. Polkovnik and Basayev played it safe during the planning stage not to let any information outside.

Also her. Parts.

Also her on the wall there along with shrapnel fragments.

When she exploded, a terrorist by the name of Moussa Tsetchoyev, who was standing next to her, was mortally wounded. Accounts that he was also rebelling against the Colonel are purely speculative. There is simply no one to confirm that information.

Men-hostages who survived the female terrorist blast were finished off with gunshots. Two men were ordered to throw dead bodies out of the window. One of them, the 33-year old Aslan Kudzayev realized that he'll be the next one to be thrown out of the window. When the terrorist was changing a magazine, Kudzayev flew out of the window head first.

The terrorist fired st him but missed. Kudzayev hid and later escaped under the cover of a smoke grenade thrown by one of the soldiers who was at the scene. On the photo - Kudzayev (in the red circle) running away. Both, his wife and daughter also survived.

Bodies of executed men under the classroom window.

The terrorists waiting for a call from authorities were getting anxious. Finally, they sent Mamitova again with a correct phone number this time. The terrorists made no demands with the exception of the ones already voiced in the first note. Later, they also said to include Aslambek Aslakhanov, an advisor to Vladimir Putin on North Caucasus.

HQ attempted to establish the number of hostages. The numbers circulating in the crowd varied and neither of them was correct. MVD inspectors were sent around the town asking people if their relatives were inside.

Compiling lists of hostages.
Needless to say, this was an ineffective strategy. Many people didn't know, whether their relatives were inside; some names were recorded multiple times by different people, some weren't recorded at all. In the end, the list stood at over 3,000 names. A long and tedious process of clearing out repetitions and mistakes commenced. It would later be connected with a scandal that the government tried downplaying the crisis down. There will be more about that in the post about Day 2.

Raw lists. A name "Arsen Malikiyev" ("Арсен Маликиев") appears four times (!) on the same page (!).

In the second half of the day various military and law enforcement units arrived to Beslan. A cordon was set up around the school. Later, it proved to be only partly effective and, then, completely ineffective.

Cordon on Oktyabrskaya ("October") street. Roughly 200 meters away from the school.

Tags: beslan

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