In Beslan, Russia’s Special Forces Had To Act Spontaneously

On September 3rd 2004, the operation to free children and adults who were taken hostage by the terrorists who seized school No. 1 in the North Ossetian city of Beslan on the Day of Knowledge was completed.

Unfortunately, losses in such cases — both among hostages and among law enforcement — are a given. Perhaps, in this situation, it was possible to minimise the number of victims in some way, if the assault was planned and went according to a clearly planned scenario.

There was a plan, of course, and it is always developed when there is a hostage-taking. Always in parallel with the negotiations, preparations for an assault are underway. In other words, the possibility of negotiating with terrorists and the possibility of an assault are not excluded.

If we take, say, Nord-Ost, then in that case, parallel to the negotiations, there was a training of special forces in a similar theatre centre, if I’m not mistaken — “Meridian”. In Beslan, special forces also trained at another similar facility in case of an assault.

But the explosions at the school were unexpected, spontaneous. The explosive devices that were hung around the hall were triggered. Therefore, an assault was not in the works, although preparations for one, of course, were carried out. I say this because I was not far from the hidden “Alfa” positions at that moment and saw some of the soldiers running towards the school, putting on their armour as they ran. This is not how a planned assault is conducted. Unfortunately, both special forces and rescuers had to act in conditions created “thanks” to the terrorists.

In addition, the local mentality left its mark on the situation, because many local residents who were armed with hunting rifles and carbines immediately ran to storm the building. They often fired over the heads of special forces running to the school. This is all no secret — on the wall of the gym traces of 12-caliber bullets were recorded.

The special forces acted on the basis of the current situation, and, of course, everything was done to save as many people as possible. But, unfortunately, no one could have predicted an unexpected scenario — when an explosion was heard inside the hall and a fire started on the roof. No one could minimise the risks in this case.

As for the information component of what happened, 16 years have already passed, and I, of course, do not remember everything.

The media initially proceeded from the appeals of relatives, of whom there were about 300. Therefore, during the first hours, the number 300 was announced. I called the department of education of North Ossetia and asked how many teachers and students they have. I had a figure of 800, I added to it also the parents who had to come to the lineup at least to the first and second or third grades, and boldly voiced the figure of more than 1000. Which, in fact, was later confirmed.

But, as a rule, in my experience, there is always a lack of official information during such tragic events. And this, probably, is dictated by the need not to release excess on the airwaves. Because – and we all know this very well – terrorists also monitor broadcasts on TV, and more recently, on the Internet. In this regard, the official authorities restrict the flow of information in such cases.

At the same time, I do not remember that information coverage was regulated by anyone in any way. In other words, everything was served completely freely, from different points of view. Indeed, there was a lack of official information from the security services. Some of it came from local residents, some from unnamed sources.

According to official data, 333 people, including the security forces who came to help people, were killed, and at least 783 people were injured. The total number of hostages – from 1116 to 1128 people. Most of the dead and injured were children.

Aleksandr Kots

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