This post contains some pictures that didn't make it to the gallery and has more text as well.
Early morning 2 out of 10 combat groups of Special Purpose Unit of FSB left to go to the training grounds of the 58th army to work out combat coordination.
The hostages were already walking around like zombies and didn't listen to terrorists' threats and orders. They were no longer scared of shots being fired at the ceiling - a measure the terrorists were using rather effectively to keep people quiet. Survivors would later say that they were praying for the bombs to go off so that their suffering would end. The terrorists themselves were going absolutely crazy. It appears that they were waiting for an order from the outside but it never came. It is unknown whether they were "stood up" by their own accomplices, or whether Russian special services performed a successful operation. It is a known fact, though, that a Saudi terrorist, Abu Zeit, one of the masterminds of the Beslan attack, had a reserve group on stand by, which was supposed to attack a school in the Nesterovskaya village, in Ingushetia. Part of this reserve group was neutralized in March of 2005 upsetting some human rights defenders. Yes, in case you didn't know many human rights defenders empathize with terrorists. They call them "rebels" and/or "freedom fighters" and raise the noise level immensely whenever law enforcement takes out one extremist wacko.
Late night, on September 2nd, the terrorists moved some older and weaker hostages into the weight room, adjacent to the main gym. tHE Windows were broken there and the air was fresher. Keep in mind, windows in the main gym remained shut the whole time. 1000+ people in a sweltering heat who are not allowed to go the bathroom... Well, you can imagine...
In the morning of Day 3, the terrorists moved some IEDs around and placed some into the weight-room, previously free of mines. In the main gym, they moved IEDs closer to the walls and, by all evidence, made a mistake in re-wiring the explsoive chain. Ultimately, this mistake save hundreds of lives. In addition, Kazbek Misikov, a father of two and formerly a sapper (combat engineer), managed to discreetly rip one of the wires.
Around 12pm Dzasokhov called Zakayev in London. Zakayev said he gave the message to Maskhadov but he only has a one-way communication line with the Ichkeria president. Maskhadov never contacted the HQ, he remained in hiding somewhere on the territory of Chechnya. After everything was over, Zakayev began giving interviews that "Maskhadov was asking for a safety corridor and guarantees". That later became another popular myth.
An hour before the Dzasokhov-Zakayev conversation, Mikhail Gutseriev, an Ingush billionaire-businessman who was asked to participate in negotiations (it became known quickly that part of the terrorists group are ethnic Ingush) spoke with to the terrorists who agreed to allow a Ministry of Emergency Situations' ("MChS") truck to come and pick up the bodies of men executed on day 1. The terrorists set stiff conditions: the truck has the sides of its cargo area lowered, four people arrive, two in the cabin, two in the back. Around 12.45 the truck with four MChS employees approached the school. A terrorist came out of the main gate and searched all four men. Few other terrorists were observing from the windows of the second floor.
A 13.05 a big blast in the main gym shook the building and the whole city. About 23-25 seconds later another blast, much stronger one, went off. The terrorists opened fire at the MChS men killing two and wounding the other two.
Valery Zamarayev. One of the two killed MChS workers. A Hero of Russia (highest Russian valor award) posthumously.
Dmitry Kormilin. Second MChS killed by the terrorists right after the explosions. He was posthumously awarded with an Order of Courage.
MON-90-based IED. It went off first.
This is where it was. The door in the upper right is the exit into the orthern courtyard (the one where festivities were held on Day 1).
Practically everyone who was sitting in the immediate vicinity was killed on the spot. Survivors had heavy concussions, major barotrauma damage (pressure change damage) not to mention numerous injuries from fragmentation objects.
Roughly 23-25 seconds another blast went off. This time a whole segment of the chain exploded - about 5-6 IEDs, including the other MON-90-based IED, the basketball hoop and under the back board IEDs.
These two were a part of the second blast.
Physical evidence of their blast.
Second MON-90-based IED.
Physical evidence of its blast.
There was another small IED on the door jam of the entrance into the gym.
Physical evidence of its blast.
"Bottle"-IED blast evidence.
Another deadly "bottle".
A simultaneous blast of multiple IEDs caused the roof trusses to jump, which resulted in a good-size chunk of bricks of the wall and the attic to fall out.
Many theories exist as to what were the reasons for the two blasts. One of them suggests that the blasts were accidental. The facts indicate otherwise: the chain was set up with electric detonators, which could only explode if electricity was fed into them. The 23-25 second interval between the blasts was just enough to realize that the first blast didn't include all IEDs and to make a second attempt.
The gang was non-uniform: it had leaders - experienced, battle-tested, well-trained fighters; fanatics who came to die; and "cannon fodder", whose tasks were limited to guard duties and who were not aware of the leaders' whole plan.
Most likely, the terrorists' plan suggested only a "win-win" outcome: either ("Plan A"), their demands are met and they come out as winners. Or ("Plan B") their demands are not met, they blow everything up and another round of ethnic slaughtering in the North Caucasus begins. It is doubtful that plan "A" was seriously considered: the demands were unrealistic in the first place. In 1998 Russia passed an Anti-terrorism Law, which prohibits giving out Russian citizens in response to terrorists' demands. Withdrawing troops from Chechnya was an even less realistic demand and Basayev couldn't possibly expect for it to be satisfied. The 1995 Budennovsk scenario was no longer possible because it proved very well that giving in to terrorists' demands will only lead to thousands more victims.
From the looks of it the leaders' plan was to hold people for three days, exacerbate, offer an unacceptable ultimatum, refuse negotiations, blow up the school and escape in the chaos. Think about it. Why did the militants agree to allow removal bodies of men executed on September 1? They certainly didn't bother them. The terrorists executed these men with ease. Why did they request a truck? The answer is because it is a convenient reason to blow up the school - the informational terrorists would pick up the ball and run with with telling everyone how Special Forces began the storming and killed the hostages. The magnitude of the explosion was planned to be such that no one would have survived. This strategy gave options to the terrorists:
1. Relatives and armed civilians were expected to rush into the school to save their loved ones. This allowed mixing up with the crowd.
2. Authorities could be blamed for initiating the detonation.
3. Part of the gang was Ingush, so a possibility of another ethnic clash for the already strained Ossetian-Ingush relations, was more than possible. That's exactly what was needed to spark a new war, since the Chechen separatist resistance was rapidly diminishing.
Но вмешалась случайность - при утреннем перемонтировании цепи боевики допустили ошибку, не позволившую цепи сработать штатно. И тогда пришлось взрывать ее по частям.
Почему третий день? Потому что отказ давать воду заложникам загонял в цейтнот не только Оперативный Штаб, но и самих террористов. Четвертые сутки заложники просто не выдержали бы без воды. Самые слабые начнут умирать и террористы потеряют контроль над залом. Что может остановить мать, на руках у которой только что умер ребенок? На четвертые сутки исчезало то, что удерживало людей в школе - страх. То, что отказ давать воду был частью плана, а не спонтанным решением - заявил сам Басаева через две недели.
Что произошло дальше - известно. Выжившие кинулись на улицу через выбитые окна и двери. Бандиты открыли по ним огонь. С улицы им начали отвечать милиционеры из оцепления и "ополченцы", и чуть позже - спецназ.
At 13:10 Andreev ordered a rescue operation. Commanding officer was FSB general Tikhonov, the head of the the FSB Special Forces. Snipers began suppressing terrorists' positions allowing people to leave the building. People ran in all directions. MVD (police) and locals were grabbing them and leading to safety. Part of the people who ran on to Octyabrskaya street is being sent to the mobile field hospital located at the territory of the Professional Technical Institute (PTI)
Yeloow - hostages escape path after first explosions.
Purple - evacuation from the weight room between 14.00-15.00
Red - evacuation after the building was stormed (after 15.00)
Pink - PTI territory.
Territory of the mobile field hospital.
Territory of the mobile field hospital.
Territory of the mobile field hospital.
School is surrounded by armed "militia" - locals and residents of a brotherly republic - South Ossetia, now a partially recognized independent state. Back then, a de-jure part of Georgia (the Caucasion Georgia). Armed with everything from double-barrelled shotguns to RPK machine-guns they had plenty of ammo brought by South Ossetians. "The Militia" opened heavy fire at the building despite absence of a single leader or any specific target.
In the background, "militiaman" given a box of ammo to his friend. They managed to get into the building and at one point almost got into a shootout with Special Forces. Fortunately, they were able to sort out who was who without victims on either side.
Photoprapher Dmitriy Beliakov who was on site:
"There was a lot of noise and screaming among "Alpha". May be, in part, because they were very angry that militiamen... I understand they will be offended but all these ossetian militiamen and police, whoever they were... There were many men running around with rifles and machine guns. There was a lot of noise from them. Look, a man runs out. A man runs out... Where is he shooting, why is he shooting, where is he going to hit - I can't figure it out. But he has to be there and he has to empty the magazine, he's emotional - it's understandable. So "Alpha" guys, they ran like four times from the fith to the first floor and simply yelled in their ear: "Stop fucking shooting! Stop shooting! Let the Special Forces work! It's your hostages that are coming out. There are children running out!" [it was] useless."
The photo on his monitor.
Shooter on the photo is firing from this position at the southern wing of the school.
People keep running. The territory of a Professional Technical Institute, located next to the school was a natural escape path but it had no outlet. The hostages and rescuers had to hop over the fence...
But, soon, they realized that making a hole in the fence would save valuable time.
These videos are original filming, which were later used in news reports.
In the meanwhile, the terrorists are forcing out survivors from the gym into the canteen room. People become hostages for the second time. Some people managed to hide in the weight room, adjacent to the gym. They were saved from there about 2pm, when the rescuers entered through the weight room's windows - the only place outside of terrorists' gunfire.
With them, came in two combat engineers of the 58th Army, who began disarming IEDs that didn't go off. Terrorists, who were hiding in the southern wing, parallel to the gym, opened heavy gunfire at the rescuers. One of the combat engineers would testify later: "The bodies were laying practically as a single layer. When a grenade hit through the window, there wasn't even a big explosion. Everything was absorbed by the bodies"."
View from one of the spots, from which the terrorists were shooting at the gym. The gym is in the palm of a hand. Solid wall to the right of the shooter made him invincible to the outside gunfire. In order to suppress this spot, one had to walk into the danger zone, within a terrorist's firing sector.
14-14.30, FSB Special Forces units return from training grounds.
Around 14.40, the gym catches on fire, most likely from a terrorist's grenade (RPG). The fire is still small and can be extinguished with as little as a bucket of water or a small extinguisher but no one has them. Terrorists keep shooting. Burning parts of the ceiling fall down on people, who start burning as well. Paths to approach the school are under terrorists' gunfire. The firemen can't get close enough to help.
Fire at the gym. One of the most infamous photos from Beslan.
At 15:05, Special Forces get a "green light" from the commanding officers to enter the building. The assault begins with firing "RPO-A" grenade launcher (or "flamethrower") at the main building's roof (not the gym!) to take out terrorists' gunners. White cloud of smoke, characteristic of RPO-A rises over the school.
Dark smoke on the left is from the burning gym. White smoke on the right is from "RPO-A". The video was shot around $15.08.
A white cloud is visible.
Tanks #325 and #328 take positions across from the school. Tank # 320 broke down.
Positioning of tanks during the storming of the school.
Special Forces moved in from three directions.
Group One got stuck next to the southern wing. Barricaded and booby-trapped windows were a major obstacles. The group eventually got inside but with a big delay.
"Alpha" unit next to the southern wing.
Group Two going in through library windows. The main entrance was barricaded and faced a long hallway at the opposite end of which the terrorists placed a machine gun. A staircase next to the library allowed part of the group to go to the second floor. Pictured: "Vympel" unit.
Group Three went through the northern courtyard, where festivities were held on Day One. They were coming in with a cover of a BTR - an armored personnel carrier.
As Special Forces begin pushing terrorists into the southern wing, local men have more freedom in rescuing the hostages. Some photographers and cameramen are able to approach the school as well.
Photographer Yuri Tutov, who generously shared his work with us, is pictured above.
Photos by Yuri Tutov.
Some journalists, like Dmitriy Steshin (above), were carrying the children out along with the locals.
People are being carried to the Oktyabr'skaya street, a minute walk, where they are sorted out. Survivors are taken to the hospital. Dead bodies are being laid right on the street.
At 15:25, water begins flowing into the gym. the terrorists have been pushed into the southern wing. A fire truck is able to approach the gym. Locals are actively helping out.
Extinguishing fire. Photos by Yuri Tutov.
The canteen room becomes a place of a heavy battle. Terrorists force hostages on the window sills to act as "human shields" and fire away with assault rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers.
Around 16.00 an APC approaches the canteen room from the Kominterna street and pulls the bars off the windows. The final evacuation phase begins.
Evacuation from the canteen room.
By 17.00, all hostages were evacuated but the battle continues and Special Forces keep losing fighters.
The bottom photo pictures Aleksandr Perov, an "Alpha"-unit commanding officer. He covered three hostages from a grenade blast in the canteen room with his body. He was awarded a Hero of Russia Gold Star medal - highest Russian award for valor.
The HQ decides to prevent further losses of personnel and to use a tank. #328 stays near a sport complex across the railroad from the school. # 325 move into position.
# 325. At 21:00 this tank approached the school and fired 7 shots at point blank range.
Location of tanks at 18:45.
Walls damage from tanks.
The terrorists were suppressed.
Ministry of Emergency (Emercom) workers began working at the gym; however, after an unexploded IED was found, wall work was postponed until next morning.
Emercom worker at the gym.
At 24:00 some activity was noticed in the southern wing. The terrorists turned out to be alive. An "RPO-A" shot was sent in to fix the problem.
Consequences of an "RPO-A" shot.
Two terrorists were finished off by that shot.
One was buried in the rubble.
The other one had his head ripped off by... a fridge door, which was sent flying by a detonation wave.
The Beslan battle ended. 10 Special Forces officers were killed marking the largest loss incurred by the FSB during a single counter-terrorist operation.