Russia: September 3, 2004


There were apparently over 1,500 adults and children in the North Ossetia school, being held hostage by 40 or more Chechen terrorists. The school has a capacity of 860 students, and many parents were their for the ceremonies that accompany the first day of the school year. But the large number of people in the school were too much for the terrorists, and hostages, from the beginning, were slipping away from the school. Today, the terrorists fired on some kids running away from the school, and Russian troops returned fire. This led to the terrorists apparently believing they were under attack. So the Chechens set off bombs they had placed in the school. This killed over a hundred children and adults. The total dead, including as many as twenty of the Chechens, appears to be 250 or more. Many of the terrorists fled the school, some taking children as hostages, and were pursued by soldiers and police. Gunfire was heard in the town of Belsan, where the school is located, throughout the day and into the night.

After cutting off communications yesterday, the Chechen terrorists holding students and teachers and family members at a North Ossetia school resumed contact this morning. It's uncertain exactly how many people are being held in the school, some claim it's as high as 1,600 people. Officials are still compiling a list. The terrorists struck when it was the first day of school, September 1st. This meant special ceremonies, with many family members attending. The terrorists have released 26 captives, mainly babies and their mothers. The terrorists refused efforts to deliver water, food and medicine to the school, and have fired some grenades and rifle shots at the soldiers and police surrounding the school. 

Russia has never given in to terrorist demand in such situations, and always either allowed the terrorists to flee back into the mountains, if the hostages were unharmed, or stormed the place, usually killing all the terrorists, and many of the hostages. In late 2002, in a very similar incident, Chechens seized a theater full of people in Moscow. Commandos used a knockout gas to put everyone to sleep, and quickly entered, killing  all the terrorists, including over a dozen wearing explosive jackets. But 120 of the 700 people in the theater died  because the anti-dote for the gas was not administered quickly enough. 

This is the fourth Chechen terrorist incident in a week. The Russian public is angry, although they are also tired of five years of fighting in Chechnya. But this incident just confirms the reasons why most Russians tolerate the brutal counter-terrorist methods in Chechnya. The war began because of Chechen terrorism (kidnapping and an invasion by Islamic militants). In addition, Russians have long feared Chechen criminal gangs throughout Russia. The pervasive "Chechen mafia" is largely the result of a World War II decision. In 1943, as German soldiers entered  Chechnya, many Chechens rebelled against the Russian  government and joined forces with the Germans. In response, most of the Chechen population was forcibly moved to Kazakhstan in Central Asia in 1944. Many Chechens died in the process. The Chechens were allowed to return to Chechnya in the late 1950s. But that removal of the entire population also caused many Chechens to flee to other parts of Russia. Since these Chechens did not have proper documents (during the Communist rule, you needed special travel documents to leave your home town), they got into criminal activities. The Chechens are nothing if not resourceful, and by the time Chechens were allowed back into Chechnya, many had become prosperous running organized crime operations. That activity continued, causing most Russians to associate Chechens with organized crime and other unsavory activities. 


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