Fifteen years ago, on September 3, 2004, Russian security forces began an armed assault on School No. 1 in Beslan, North Ossetia to attempt to release some 1,128 students, parents, and school employees taken hostage two days earlier by militants. Having refused to negotiate, the government targeted the school with grenade launchers, machine guns, tanks, and other pieces of military equipment.
Overall, 334 hostages, including 186 children, died in the school, where they had been taken hostage on September 1, the first day of the academic year. The terrorists already had executed some parents and teachers; others died during the special forces’ assault – a barrage that the European Court of Human Rights later deemed excessive.
All of the hostage-takers were killed except for one man, Nurpashi Kulayev, who was captured alive and sentenced to life in prison in 2006.
Within a few weeks, Chechen militia leader Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for the attack. In an online letter, he blamed Russian forces for “the terrible tragedy” at Beslan and stated that he had offered the release of the hostages in exchange for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s own resignation.
Basayev was killed in a 2006 explosion attributed to Russia’s Federal Security Service.