Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 36

Were the Beslan explosions and gunbattle of September 3 accidental? Eyewitness Rustam Kaliev told Chechnya Weekly that in his view the terrorists must have studied carefully the Nord-Ost experience of 2002, and therefore determined to thwart a surprise assault by planning in advance that each member of the band was to act independently—that is, to detonate his explosives or to open fire—if the unexpected should happen. If so, this of course made the whole situation more unstable. Nevertheless, once the shooting began, federal snipers managed to kill enough of the terrorists quickly enough to keep all the bombs from exploding—otherwise the building would have been totally destroyed along with everyone in it.

In his conversations with the local residents in Beslan, Kaliev found that from the very first day they were virtually unanimous in their certainty that there would be an assault of the building. They, too, were haunted by the memory of the Nord-Ost tragedy, and the appearance of federal Spetsnaz troops only confirmed their certainty that the lives of their children would not be a high federal priority. Kaliev insisted that these Spetsnaz commandos arrived on the scene early and that the federal troops present never consisted solely of ordinary draftees.

Nevertheless, the weight of evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the events of mid-day September 3 came as a tactical surprise to the commandos themselves, who were not prepared for an assault at that moment. Kaliev told Chechnya Weekly that the commandos “were grabbing children and shielding them with their own bodies while being shot at from both sides.” Despite the commandos’ efforts he thinks a majority of the children caught in that intense crossfire were at least wounded if not killed.