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Beslan, North Ossetia

Beslan, a town of about 30,000, is in North Ossetia, near the republic of Chechnya, where separatist rebels have been fighting Russian forces since 1999.

On 01 September 2004 terrorists seized hundreds of young students and others hostage in the Beslan town school. The armed militants demanded that Moscow free Chechen rebels. Hundreds of Russian troops had surrounded the school building as various other negotiators attempted to reason with the militants. From the very start the authorities downplayed the magnitude of the crisis, saying some 300 hostages had been seized in Beslan, when the real number was more than 1,000.

Suspicion for who was behind the hostage taking fell on Chechen militants, although no claims of responsibility had been made. A representative of separatist leader Aslan Mashkhadov denied involvement in a statement published on a separatist website. The hostage drama started one day after a suspected Chechen suicide bomber blew herself up outside a Moscow subway station, killing nine people, and just over a week after 89 people died in two Russian plane crashes that are suspected to have been caused by suicide bombers.

Some 330 people -- about half of them children -- were found dead after Russian special forces stormed the school. How they died and whether all of them were killed during the assault is unclear. More than 500 people remain hospitalized. But three days after the event, scores of people were still unaccounted for.

On September 17, 2004, the Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev was reported to have claimed responsibility for the Beslan school hostage siege via a website. Via that same statement Basaev reportedly also took responsibility for other terrorist attacks which had happened recently in Russia, all of which had had been conducted by units of a group called the "Riyadus-Salikhin".

According to reports of the statement, the hostages would have been released if the hostage-takers' demands had been met, namely an immediate end to the war in Chechnya along with the Russian troops's withdrawal, or the resignation of the Russian President, Putin. The statement also claimed 33 individuals to have taken part in the Beslan takeover, and included not only Chechens, but also Ingush, Ossetians, Russians and two Arabs, though any connection to Al-Qaeda was denied.

Satellite Imagery of the School in Beslan, North Ossetia

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:27:10 ZULU