This Day In History: Chechen Rebels Attack A School In Beslan (2004)

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On this day in history, a large group of Chechen rebels attacked a secondary school in southern Russia in 2004. The school was located in Beslan,  largely Christian North Ossetia, near Chechnya in the mainly Muslim Northern Caucasus.

The attackers take hostage all those inside. The majority of the hostages are school age children. The rebels demanded the end of the Russian military presence in the Republic of Chechnya. The terrorists attacked the school on the first day of the new school term.

The Chechen conflict erupted in the early 1990s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Chechens seized control of their Republic. The Republic became a byword for lawlessness and violence and to end it, President Boris Yeltsin ordered troops into the Republic. This was the start of the First Chechen War, and this ended in a stalemate. A series of devastating bomb attacks in southern Russia prompted caused a breakdown in relations between the Chechens and Russian. President Putin ordered the Russian army into Chechnya and this started the Second Chechen War.

Evstafiev-helicopter-shot-down
A Russian helicopter shot down during the Second Chechen War

The Chechen rebels stormed the school at 9:30 a.m. on September the first. This was during a ceremony marking the start of the new School Year. The gathered all the children and teachers into halls and classrooms under armed guard.  They mostly were held in the gym, which was rigged with explosives. Children were held at gunpoint to deter any Russian efforts to attack the Chechens. The Chechens made their demands and they refused the emergency services access to the hostages and even denied them water.

Eventually, they allowed some medics to retrieve the bodies of those who had been killed during the storming of the school. For some reason one of the bombs in the gym exploded, it is believed that it detonated accidently. The building partially collapsed and this allowed many children to escape. As they did the rebels started shooting on the children. This led to the Russian special forces being ordered into the school and a major battle ensued.

Over the course of the next few hours, the Russian troops secured the building, killing 31 terrorists  and capturing one.  The rescuers discovered hundreds of bodies in the ruins of the destroyed school gym. Approximately 340 students and teachers had been killed and more than 700 others were wounded.

The attack on the school was only one of the many atrocities that took place during the two Chechen Wars. The conflict is still ongoing and there are still sporadic attacks in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. It has been estimated that some 200,000 people have died as a result of the wars.

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