Beslan: Cry of the Bear Cubs
He (God) kept the best
the most beautiful ones the best children
12 year old girl
Beslan hostage survivor
The Day of Knowledge is an
important day in Russia. This is the first day of school and they take it much
more seriously than their American counterparts. It is a day of celebration and
festivities. The first day of school in Russia always is on September 1st
and young Beslan students dressed in their best on that faithful morning. They
came with gifts and flowers for the teachers. They also came with joy and
The city of Beslan (population
40,000) was celebrating the first day of school like the rest of Russia. Beslan
School #1 had drawn approximately 3000 people due to the fact that it handled
At Beslan School #1 a party of sorts
outside the school. Teachers, students, parents and relatives met, hugged, sang
and welcomed each other on school grounds. The students then lined up according
to grade, a perfect formation and an advantage for those who were about to come.
At approximately 9:00am, the rage of terror struck, approximately three dozen
Chechen and Islamic extremists pulled up in two large trucks and jumped out.
This was the catalyst for several others hidden among the crowd to jump into
action. In total approximately forty nine heavily armed terrorists charged and
took the lives of a massive amount of innocent people over a period of sixty two
They executed a plan of action, which
wrangling the adults and students into the school building. They fired their
weapons in the air and on the ground in an effort to maximize panic and
submission to their demands. It was incredibly effective. Speed was vital to
them and they had planned and done their job well. At first some of the victims
thought the original shots being fired was a military drill or police chasing
bandits. One teenage student thought this exact scenario until she saw a
bearded man yell at her Why are you standing here? You are all being taken
hostage! A police officer and security guard engaged the attackers with minimal
effect. They didnt have much of chance and were quickly cut down. However, it
is just possible their actions allowed an amount of potential victims to get
away. No matter how small or large that unknown number was it was significant.
What can now be considered hostages
into the school with threats of death to themselves and more importantly to
their children. Families were split up in the chaos and many children were left
on their own to deal with this frightening event. The hostages were effectively
driven into, what could be loosely called by American standards, a gym in
school. The siege had begun.
In a matter of minutes the terrorists
approximately 1,132 innocent souls. Almost immediately the citizens of Beslan
gathered around the school forming a human fence around the hostages and
terrorists. The hostage takers consisted of Chechen and Islamic extremists, this
included two Fiancés of Allah. The Fiancés of Allah are women who are under
the age of twenty-five and had a male member of their family killed in the
Chechen War. The women strapped explosives to their bodies to be used as mobile
The group eventually divided themselves in three command
and control elements:
Control group supervised and controlled the hostages.
Security group protected the group from barricaded
positions within the school. Leader group gave orders and controlled limited
After the hostages were forced
into the gym mothers attempted to calm their children by telling them that they
were in a movie, a military exercise or it was just a game. Even with the
terrorists attempts to control everyone it was obviously chaotic inside the gym.
The terrorists were constantly threatening the children that they would be shot
if they continued crying. A forty six year old man who attempted to calm the
other hostages down was executed in front of everyone in the gym. His body was
then drug out of the gym leaving an ominous blood trail. This was an obvious
submissive tactic to let the hostages know that they had no problem killing
The group then began wiring
explosive devices amongst the hostages. The bombs were placed around and above
the sitting hostages, including a basketball goal that would later play a
catastrophic role in the events of this incident. Most of the bombs were
primitive but deadly. They were embedded with nails and other objects to act as
shrapnel to increase their effectiveness. The terrorists claimed to have wired
one of the bombs to a foot controlled dead mans switch. It appeared in the
form of a pedal. This was one of two dead man switches that they claimed to have
and the foot pedal can be seen in video footage the terrorists sent out to the
Russian authorities to let them know that it existed. A terrorist would keep
his foot on the pedal. If he was shot or lifted his foot off the pedal for any
reason the bomb(s) would detonate. Russian authorities now believe that the dead
mans switch was a fake. But, whether it was or not was irrelevant to the
hostages at the time. Hence, it was effective.
Early on the first day the
hostages were told to give up their cell phones along with any cameras,
including video cameras. They were told that if anyone hid a cell phone and were
caught they and others around them would be shot. In the end a pile of these
devices were on the floor. The terrorists found a video camera that a father had
brought to video his child going to school. They used it for their own and
videotaped the hostages along with themselves. The videotape was later found by
a group of boys going through the carnage of the school after the event was
over. The videotape can be seen in several documentaries about the Beslan event
and can viewed on some video web sites. It offers some limited insight into
conditions of the hostages on the first two days of the siege as well as the
mindset of the terrorist holding them. In this video a bomb can be seen hung so
low that anyone walking under it would have hit their head on it. It was
obviously slung this way for maximum killing effect.
Fear and death were not over yet
for day one of the siege. Up to sixteen men and boys were taken to the second
floor (room 206) of the school and lined up against the wall of one of the
classrooms. They were then executed outright. Their bodies were then tossed out
a window onto the ground below. It is probable that the terrorists viewed these
men as a possible threat and wanted to get rid of them quickly. These men were
probably large in stature, appeared to be healthy and most likely posed a
liability. It made no difference if the threat perception was real or not.
Several other men were forced to assist them in the fortification of the school.
They were forced to assist in barricading the windows and door from the outside.
After their efforts were complete they were shot dead and left where they lay.
This brutal group had something else in store for the young attractive female
hostages. They were singled out and one by one taken to another room of the
school where they were sexually assaulted over the entire course of this event.
This included the barrels of assault weapons and other forbidding objects.
As day one progressed and the
hostages suffering continued Russia began its response to the school. The 58th
Infantry Division arrived at Beslan. This division is a standard military entity
made up of mostly young conscripts. They were in no way prepared to handle this
situation. What they found was a melee of armed angry civilians that had
surrounded the school by the thousands. Many of the men were armed with their
own weapons and were threatening to storm the school. The Russian authorities
did not help matters any by announcing that there were only 354 hostages in the
school. The crowd knew the number was much higher and this number incensed them,
as well as the terrorists in the school when the number reached them. This down
playing of the numbers did not help the authorities in any way. All it did was
escalate suspicion of them by the Beslan civilians and caused the anger of the
terrorists to pour over onto the hostages in the school.
Russia sent numerous other
military and government Special Forces to Beslan. These groups are known as
Spetsnaz units. The word Spetsnaz comes by combining the words Special
Purpose Forces. Although several responded, the two primary units assigned to
the school were Alpha and Vympel. These units responded from Chechnya and
Moscow. Alpha can be best compared to Americas Delta Force or CAG, as they are
now known. Vympel is Russias formal terrorist type unit. They conduct the
missions that are very specialized and unpleasant. They are also trained to go
behind enemy lines and cause havoc. Both are top notch units and trained well in
what they do. Again, upon their arrival they found a scene that was chaotic at
best both behind the walls of the school and streets outside of it. During this
time snipers began taking up positions around the school.
In regards to negotiations with
the terrorists they were limited at best. The terrorists had a bloody end
planned for this incident and talking to them was not going to divert them.
Civilians continued to gather
around the school. Over the course of the siege and up to its catastrophic end
the civilians stayed at the school. Many refused food or to sleep in solidarity
with the hostages inside the school. For logistical reasons this helps nothing
and might be construed as a bad idea no matter how noble. If an event like this
ever occurs in the United States we can assume that the end will also be bloody
to say the least. First responders, especially law enforcement, may very well be
decimated with officers wounded and killed. Other first responder agencies will
also be pulled to their furthest brink. The one element that has potential to
remain strong is the community. People may need places to stay. Children victims
may need blankets and someone to hold on to until the proper entity can assist
them. Food may need distributed. In other words the community may be called in
some low level, but important factor when the final bullet is fired. Hence, they
will need to be strong, rested, fed and ready to assist if that is asked of
It is amazing how the civilians
were able to intermingle with the security forces around the school. Males with
rifles with some fueled with vodka continued to place themselves in positions to
fire at the school. They exchanged verbal insults and gestures with the
terrorists inside the school. The Russian authorities may have feared that if
they attempted to disarm the civilians of their weapons they would be involved
in a firefight with the very same people whose children were being held hostage
inside the school.
As the morning of September 2nd
came to Beslan little had changed for the hostages. Parents continued to try to
comfort their children as well as keep the calm. Those with medical conditions
started to feel the effects of the lack of their medication, food and water.
One politician was allowed inside
the school for negotiations on the second day of the siege. He was Ruslan Aushev.
Aushev was a former Russian general who later became the President of
Ingushetia. Ingushetia lies between Chechnya and North Ossetia (where Beslan is
located). Chechnya and Ingushetia are predominately Muslim while North Ossetia
is mostly Christian. The Inguish, including Aushev, are very sympathetic to
Chechnya and its bid for independence. A number of the terrorists that took over
the school had Inguish origins.
Aushev was allowed inside the
school. The video footage that the terrorists took with their new camera shows
him attempting to get the terrorists to release some of the hostages. The school
principal can also be seen pleading for the children. The terrorist to whom they
were speaking with agrees to release some of the nursing babies. When they were
released mothers were forced to make decisions no parent should never have to
do. They were forced to leave with their babies but leave older children behind.
As they left the school Aushev left with them carrying a baby that a mother gave
up to stay behind with her older child. Aushev followed the released mothers out
of the school with the child and he was never able to return to the school.
This was not a kind act by the
terrorist. It was at best a standard stalling tactic. As in, see we are
releasing hostages. Babies do not know terrorism or any other act of violence.
They only know they are hot, hungry, thirsty and not having a good time. As we
all know this usually translates into crying. These particular babies were
driving the terrorists crazy. However, they probably knew enough to know that if
they started executing babies outright this would be the one thing to cause a
riot of sorts among the mothers inside. Hence, this was probably a strategic
move on their part as much as anything else.
Interviews with the former
hostages stated that many started losing hope of a peaceful resolution as day
two went on. The terrorists also became more hostile and unpredictable towards
them. Many of the hostages had gone without food or water since the siege began
the day before. They started drinking their own urine and eating pedals off the
flowers that they had brought for the teachers to celebrate the Day of
Knowledge. Everything bad from day one transferred over to day two. Hostages
continued to be sorted out for various forms of harassment and abuse. This
continued as day two grew into day three of the siege of Beslan School #1.
The hostages continued to
obviously deteriorate as the morning September 3rd arrived. Many
hostages and civilians outside the school later reported that there was
something in air on September 3rd. They knew something was going to
happen on this day. Parents stated that the children inside the school no longer
responded to the terrorists threats and the gunfire that usually followed. They
were exhausted, dehydrated and numb to all stimuli around them. One mother even
said that some of the mothers pondered doing something to spark an end to this
horror. The mental stability of the hostages and even the terrorist (even they
began arguing with each other) appeared be to breaking down.
At approx 1:05pm that something
did happen. One of the bombs hanging from a basketball goal fell and detonated.
It was followed by another explosion several seconds later. This set off a
trigger of events that proved catastrophic for all. The explosions obviously
killed many people immediately. They obviously injured many parents, teachers
and children alike. Some survivors described a deafening silence and zero
visibility from the debris of the explosions. As time progressed hostages began
jumping out the gyms windows in an effort to make a dash for escape and life.
The terrorist realized what was happening and started firing into the fleeing
victims. One teenage female hostage stated that she was finally able to fall
asleep. She was awakened by the explosions and was surrounded by dead bodies.
She escaped out of a hole blown into the gym wall with a friend. Several minutes
after the second explosion the roof of the gym caught fire and collapsed. This
took even more innocent lives. One child survivor stated that he saw other
children melting alive.
Confusion was apparent on both
sides. The Russian military thought the terrorists set the bombs off on purpose.
The terrorist thought the Russians had started their assault on the school. Just
prior to the explosions going off the terrorists had agreed to allow the Russian
authorities to remove the bodies of the men killed on day one of the attack and
thrown out the window. As the men were doing this the explosions occurred. This
may very well have seeded the terrorists belief that the assault was planned on
the Russian side and the body removal was an attempt to place soldiers in a
strategic position. These brave rescuers assigned to remove the bodies were
fired upon one was killed.
Alpha and Vympel units waited for
the go command to enter the school. The problem was that none of the higher
ups could or would give the order. Finally the units began the entry after not
being able to stand by any longer as their Russian children were being
slaughtered. Patch made elements of both units began their rescue attempt. A
large portion of Alpha was 18 miles to the south in the city of Vladikavkaz
practicing a prepared assault on a school that was similar to Beslan School #1.
Vympel would bear much of the brunt of the initial rescue attempt.
Obviously, the Spetsnaz units were
placed in a position that forced them to engage. Some with in rescue teams used
their own bodies as shields as they attempted to protect the fleeing hostages
that were pouring out of the gym. The Alpha and Vympel teams made entry through
windows and mouse holes they blew into the walls of the school with explosive
breaches. One Vympel element attempted to enter the school through the main
entrance, but it was heavily barricaded and wired with explosives. A tank round
finally gave them a way inside.
The armed civilians also started
firing their weapons at the school. Others surged forward toward the school with
the Spetsnaz teams. Some helped hostages through the windows and rushed them to
safety. Others can be seen in photos helping with fire hoses showering water
into the gym. The civilians were playing a role in the incident from start to
finish. for good, bad or worse. At this point crowd control was literally
Six year old Aida Sidokova was
blown out the window of the gym after the initial bombs went off. There is a
series a photos taken by a photographer that documents part of her story. The
photographer was imbedded with a Russian sniper team positioned outside the
school. The photos start off by showing Aida and another woman lying on the
ground outside the gym in the courtyard. The woman and Aida then start to raise
up. The woman flees the area. Aida, dressed in only her underwear with her
skinny legs covered in blood, is then photographed climbing back into the gym
through the same windows she was blown out of... her attempt to re-enter the gym
was successful. The very last photo shows the roof collapsing and the gym
engulfed in flames.
Many of the surviving hostages in
the gym were forced into the kitchen and cafeteria area of the school. Once
there they were forced to stand in front of the windows acting as human shields
to protect the terrorists from incoming bullets. The terrorists told them to
scream to the military (and in all probability civilians) to stop the assault on
As Vympel and Alpha teams made
their way into the school engaging their targets the hostages continued to
stream out of the school. In the end it took ten hours for the Russians to
retake the school with the last remaining terrorists were killed on the north
side of the southern wing of the school. Alpha and Vympel blasted the barricaded
hostiles with RPG and RPOs, basically blowing that section of the school apart.
Beslan School #1 was finally back in Russian control. Hostages continued to
stream out of the school during all this in an attempt to escape the carnage. As
you view and study the photos of the event several things become evident.
You will notice that most of the
children are either naked or in their underwear. This was due to the fact that
the gym acted as a greenhouse of sorts with the windows and all the people
stuffed inside. The heat inside the gym became unbearable. You will also notice
that most of the hostage make up were women and younger children. This may be
due to the fact that many of the older, hence stronger / faster kids, were able
to flee the school grounds when the assault was initiated. The younger children
had no recourse other than to follow the terrorists directions. Note: the lower
number of older students was also determined because the older students found
such festivities not cool, as the event was designed for the younger children.
There were also a fairly significant number of men to women hostage ratio. This
may be due to the fact that fathers tend to avoid this type of activity and many
may have been working at the local businesses and factories.
You will also notice that many of
the victims (especially the children) were being carried by other civilians.
This was due to them being injured, exhausted, malnourished / dehydrated and
panicked. Despite their actions throughout the incident it could be safe to say
that some of the civilian males saved the lives of hostages by assisting them to
Make shift aid stations were set
up in secure areas around the school. Most of the escaping hostages begged for
water from their rescuers and first responders. The Russian authorities planned
poorly for the medical treatment side and there were limited numbers of medical
assets around the school. For some victims the Golden Hour was ticking away.
Many of the victims wandered the aid areas looking for family members children
looking for parents parents looking for children brother looking for sister
and so on. The anguish of Beslan was to continue as families received the news
of dead loved ones some of this came immediately as they identified bodies
other news came later as DNA results became apparent in later months.
By 11:00pm the Russian military
had taken the battered school back from the Chechens and their extremist allies.
Imagine a ten-hour battle in and around an American school. The North Hollywood
bank shootout in 1997 between two bank robbers and LAPD lasted less than an
hour. And even though the North Hollywood bank actors were heavily body armored
they were shooting from minimal use of cover and concealment with a vehicle
being their only real option. Imagine dozens of motivated individuals with brick
and mortar as cover.
Eleven Vympel and Alpha soldiers
were killed re-taking the school. Other Spetsnaz units lost ten other brave men
another sixty-three were wounded. Compare these casualties to any American
police department. Stories of heroism on the part of these Russian units should
be acknowledged this may be our American police officers if a similar event
happens here. One of the individual incidents that I am aware of involved a
Vympel officer grabbing a terrorist in the gym. The officer saw that the man was
about to throw a grenade into a crowd of hostages who had survived the initial
explosions. The officer tackled the terrorist and held him in a bear type hug
until the grenade exploded and killed them both. Another Vympel officer was shot
in the neck while trying to cover the fleeing hostages from sniper fire coming
from the second floor of the school. He literally bled to death while never
giving up or retreating from his position that was completely exposed in the
school courtyard. These are just two brief examples and I bet there are hundreds
of stories just like these. These acts not only included heroism (true heroism)
on the part of the Spetsnaz units, but these are also stories of unbelievable
brave acts on the parts of the teachers, parents and even the older students who
sacrificed their lives to save others.
One of the Chechens made it out
of the school. He was found hiding under a truck by the Russians. His name was
Norpasha Kulayev and he was sentenced to life in prison in the summer of 2005.
During this 53 hour incident the
most recent numbers I have seen are as follows:
186 children dead
Old Soviet habits die hard in the
Russian military and political machine. Nobody would take charge of the school
scene. Command and control was poor. Lower level officers and officials had no
chain of command to turn to. Shooters for the Spetsnaz teams around the school
couldnt get anyone in a position of authority to give the order to move in on
the school after the bombs went off. After waiting so long they decided to go in
on their own.
Wounded children and adults were
spread out all over southern and western Russia (including Moscow) for medical
treatment. It took weeks, even months, for some families to find out that their
relatives had survived. It should be noted that Moscow is 1000 miles from Beslan.
One female survivor who was a teenager reported that it took her awhile to
realize that she was now safe while in the hospital. In her mind she perceived
the doctors and nurses as being terrorist who continued to want to harm her.
Entire generations were destroyed
in the Beslan
incident especially younger generations where all the younger siblings were
killed. Some children survived but one or both of their parents did not.
Pictures were put up on the walls of Beslan streets of unclaimed child
During the Cold War America
depended on the Russians / Soviets loving their children as much as we did. The
heroism of the shooters who re-took the school compiled with the grief of the
people of Beslan and Russia itself. proved that they do. Russian citizens left
bottles of water and other beverages at the school as a symbolic attempt to
quench the thirst of the dead, dying and injured. They also left stuffed dolls
and animals in acknowledgment of the child victims the youngest of the dead
being two years old. This continues to be what can now be considered a tradition
at the cemetery where the dead are buried. Toys and drinks are left at the
gravesites of the victims slaughtered at the school.
Victims of the siege reported that
takers were injecting something into themselves during the incident. Heroin is a
major drug in that area of the world. However, the descriptions of the
terrorists behavior after the injections are much more consistent with some type
of amphetamine based stimulant. The victims reported that they became much more
hyper and aggressive and physical / sexual abuse increased towards the hostages
after the drug ingestion. We should take note of this as what would be normally
be conceived as a recreational drug is now being used as a strategic option
against us. If this behavior is observed in future incidents we should not
assume that we are dealing with drug addicted thugs but a crack team of
assailants who have an agenda and strategy already set in motion. The drugs are
simply an effective part of the original plan.
Some have attempted to state that
military units started the assault on September 3rd thus causing the
bombs to detonate. This doesnt make sense for several reasons. The main
Spetsnaz units had only 133 operators around the school that were on duty at
the time that bombs went off. Another 133 operators were off duty on a two
minute stand-by. By American police standards this seems like a lot, but their
planned assault called for at least twice that many to be at the school. In an
exchange of E mails I learned of an important fact from the photographer
embedded with a sniper team. He stated that he did not notice anything in
Spetsnaz behavior to indicate a planned assault at the time the bombs went off
in the school.
The Russians correctly estimated
were around fifty terrorists in the school. They also knew that it would take 10
to 1 superiority ratio for each entrenched terrorist to be taken out plus
another 50% of ready reserve to back up the initial assault team. Obviously, if
you do the math the numbers needed did not match what an experienced military,
like the Russians had at Beslan, would need for a planned assault / rescue.
Also, dont forget that most of the primary unit (Alpha) assigned for this type
of mission was miles away practicing for the planned assault if it came to that.
There were other military units at Beslan with Alpha and Vympel. But they rarely
train with or draw assets from them. Also, as we already discussed it actually
took an extended period of time for the Vympel and the remaining Alpha troops to
go into the school because the government officials balked at giving the order.
The Russians were caught flat-footed.
no formal assault plan yet and after the bombs went off any type of plan that
they might have been trying to formulate converted into just save as many kids
as you can. .. period. The results are what we have in the history of what
occurred at Beslan School #1.
It has been noted that the floorboards
library had been torn up. Some have assessed that because of this weapons were
hidden under the library floor months prior to assault in September. In all
practicality a more obvious answer would be that the terrorists were looking for
tunnels being dug underneath the school by Russian forces for a planned assault
and entry point into the school. The Russians had done this at the Dubrovka
Theatre (the play that was being put on was called Nord Ost, which this incident
is commonly known as) play in October 2002. The terrorists at Beslan probably
learned from this an were looking for the tunnels, which did not exist, at the
The only thing that has come out of
School siege is death, depression, despair and lessons. As police officers in
the United States and around the world we were powerless to do anything for the
victims while this incident was in motion. However, we can learn from the
lessons that can be taken away from this tragedy. If we dont we may suffer the
consequences in a manner that is much more than anything we have dealt with in
the past on our soil. These lessons were not free they came with a price the
cry of the bear cubs in September 2004.
Note: Aida Sidakova survived her ordeal at Beslan School
#1. She was later asked why she climbed back into the gym. She stated she wanted
to be with her mother who was still inside.
References and must see resources:
Terror at Beslan John Giduck (
---thanks for the help on this, John
Children of Beslan HBO documentary
Three Days in September Showtime documentary
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg Ferency has been employed with the Terre Haute Police Dept since 1991.
He has been assigned to the Drug Task Force for the past nine years. He is the
owner of Narc Ops Consulting Group LLC and the Senior Editor of SWATdigest.com.
He can be reached at