On the 1st of September 2004, 32 Chechen Islamist fundamentalist rebels burst into the school Number One in Beslan, North Ossetia (aautonomous republic of the Russian Federation) during the “Knowledge Day” ceremony, which is the first day of school for students. But in Russia there is one more reason to remember this date.
Many people are able to escape and cry havoc, but 1,200 people are taken hostage in the school gym. “50 hostages will die for every member of them killed by the police and 20 for every member wounded“, these are the terrorists’ threats if the Russian government strengthened the blitz of police formed by agents from the Russian army, the Vympel units, members of OMON and Alpha groups, who orders his agents to surround the building. The rebels want Leonid Roshal to mediate: he is a pediatrician who dealt with the negotiations for the release of children during Moscow theater hostage crisis in 2002. The assailants demand the complete withdrawal of the Russian army from Chechnya, but the negotiations are not successful and so the tragedy delays until September 3.
Gathered into a gym, with no mobile phones, they can talk only if they are asked to do it and only in Russian, they weren’t allowed to eat or drink. Some hostages drink urine. The heat is oppressive and many hostages can take off their clothes to cope with unbearable temperatures. The prettiest girls, with the excuse of drinking water, are brought into another room …
After exhausting hours of negotiations and two days of high tension, several gunshots and two loud explosions, that cause the fall of a wall of the gym, are heard from the gym. So far, the Russian troops had not open fire, but an hour after the incident, the spetsnaz, “the special purpose forces”, assault the building. Next morning, special forces conquer the school.
360 dead, among them 186 children, 31 fighters, 11 Russian policemen and many wounded. 800 people will survive the segregation, but many of them are mutilated and some children lost their parents.
The reasons for the massacre have never been defined with certainty, but the main causes seem the nationalism, really strong among these rebels demanding independence of Chechnya, the affirmation of Islam in Ossetia, a Catholic region always in contrast with the Muslim Ingushetia. Others do not exclude an involvement of Al-Qaeda.
«But mourning crescent moon embraced a mourning cross.
Between charred school desks and clouds of smoke,
Mohammed and Christ wander like brothers
picking up the children by little pieces.»
“School in Beslan”, Evghenij Evtushenko