Affects of Beslan Siege, Russia
*Unless otherwise specified in footnotes all information about the events as they occurred at Beslan Middle School #1 are cited from John Giduck’s book, “Terror At Beslan”.
On September 1, 2004 at Beslan Middle School #1 forty-nine (49) Chechen Muslim terrorists took more than 1,200 people hostage. Those 1,200 hostages included infant and toddler children, school children, parents, other family members, school staff and faculty. Before the event would be over more than 300 hostages would be killed, 189 of them children. While the numbers of dead are bad enough, what may be worse is how the event occurred, what the terrorists did during the siege and what these events may foretell for America’s school systems. Indeed, the complete title of the book “Terror at Beslan” is “Terror at Beslan; A Russian Tragedy with Lessons for America’s Schools”. The lessons to be learned are hard ones that many school administrators would rather deny or ignore than recognize, realize and act upon.
So, as the events occurred…
On the morning of September 1, 2004 those 49 terrorists arrived at the school. More than three dozen terrorists piled out of just-arriving troop carrier trucks at approximately 8:45 am when the opening school day festivities were winding down. The remainder of the terrorists were already salted within the crowd of celebrating students and their family members. While some of the terrorists went into the school to herd anyone inside toward the gym, those terrorists who remained outside used gunfire to herd the crowd inside and into the gym. Think about this next statement for a moment: the more than 1,200 hostages actually taken into the school represent only about 60% of the total number of students and family members that were present that morning. Do the math: the total hostage count could well have exceeded 2,000.
(Photo right courtesy of Reuters) Officially there were 1,181 hostages taken. However, a local committee in Beslan posted the names of 1,220 hostages on an Internet site. Throughout the remainder of this text the hostage count will be referred to simply as “1,200” for simplicity sake.
One might expect that the terrorists would want to calm the hostages once they were secured. It is, after all, to the hostage taker’s advantage if the hostages themselves are calm and under control. Instead, in the case of Beslan – and to the horror of every reader out there – the terrorists are reported to have gone crazy – beating people, raping girls, killing some of the hostages and worse. Some of the rapes occurred in the gym in front of all the other hostages, adults and children both. Some of the rape victims were not only raped in the conventional sense, but also with the terrorists’ rifle barrels. Some of the female hostages were separated from the main group in the gym, taken up to the second floor and there held and raped repeatedly throughout the sixty-two (62) hour ordeal. Some of the surviving females would require emergency surgery to repair the damage done by these heinous acts.
There were confirmed two women working with the terrorists – they were terrorists themselves – dressed in black, wearing face veils, pistol belts, and cumbersome explosive vests. These women were obviously intended for potential “suicide” bomber activity. In the close confines of the gymnasium or the second floor auditorium, the detonation of either or both of these women would be sure to cause mass casualties.
(Photo right courtesy of ABC News) One of the things that the terrorists did early on was to take every hostages cell phone. After that the terrorists secured their location by setting explosives up in the gymnasium and in other areas of the school, particularly focusing on the six main entrances. Some of the bombs in the gym were strung across and under the basketball court nets and backboards. Ultimately these would be the focus of what explosion event caused the Russian Special Forces troops to begin their assault on the school.
Early in the siege the hostages were allowed to drink water and go to the bathrooms. This changed before the first day of the siege was over. Consider how uncomfortable this made the hostages: getting more and more thirsty and having to sit in their own urine or feces. By the end of the siege mothers among the hostages had been saving their urine in their shoes so that they’d have something for the children to drink or to pour over them to cool them. Out of pure cruelty, some of the terrorists put bottles of water in front of the dehydrated children, telling them they would be killed if they reached for the bottle. The photo shown right is of small memorials on a windowsill at the burned out Middle School gymnasium. Note the bottles of water and juice, obviously placed there to recognize the terrible thirst the hostages suffered through before dying.
Also brought in by the terrorists were approximately sixty-six (66) pounds of explosives. Much of the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) they brought were plastic bottles filled with a homemade version of dynamite surrounded by nails, bolts and screws as shrapnel. Reportedly, at the end of the siege, troops disarmed more than 100 booby traps that the terrorists had set throughout the school.
One the first morning, eighteen (18) adult men and older boys – the largest and most likely to put up any kind of resistance – were taken to the second floor and executed. The terrorists used this as an example of their steel control over the hostages and then used some of the remaining strong hostages to help fortify their position with the school. When the terrorists were done using those hostages, they took them to the second floor and executed them as well.
Something that overwhelms me when discussing the Beslan Middle School Siege event is the complete callousness with which the terrorists dispatched / executed / killed hostages of any given age. Mr. Giduck discusses this on page 63 of his book and he quotes a female Russian policy psychologist as having said:
“…normal people have normal limitations on their thinking and most cannot go past these very ‘human’ limits. But… Chechens, have a long history of working to overcome those human limits for things like torture, and dismembering infants and breastfeeding babies.”
I want you to think very carefully about that for a moment. Most of us have a hard time even imagining that someone could be so cold blooded as to harm a child. When we say “child” we tend to think of prepubescent children, but “child” legally applies to anyone under 18 years of age. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s confine that to people under the age of 13. It’s difficult to imagine someone so utterly hard hearted as to be capable of harming – especially for entertainment or sport – a child of 12, 9, or 6. Think about how sick and twisted an individual would have to be to willfully harm a child of 4, 3 or 2… Recognize the reality that these terrorists did exactly that and didn’t blink in the process. If you, for a moment, doubt that extremist Muslim terrorists won’t willingly mutilate or murder your child simply because that child is 10 years old (as an example) then you are deluding yourself.
One thing mentioned in the book is how surprised the Russian government was by the number of citizens who showed up with weapons. While Russia may be surprised at their citizenry in the possession of assault rifles, hunting rifles, shotguns and handguns, how surprising would this be in the United States? Not even a little bit. We are a culture largely built on guns, our right to own them, our right to carry them, and the liberty the possession of them represents. We may scoff at the statement, “An unarmed man is a peasant while an armed man is a citizen” but consider for a moment how true it is. You’d better not be surprised, in the event of a school siege in the United States, at how many citizens show up armed.
Russia’s best Special Forces units responded to the scene and began forming plans to storm the school should it become necessary. Russia’s best – the equivalent of America’s Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Expeditionary Unit, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Teams (HRT) and others. Certainly such men, full of conviction, motivation, training and phenomenal skills would be able to resolve such a situation, right? Reality says that not even the best in the world can do so. If the terrorists are determined to kill hostages then hostages will die.
On the third day an unexplained explosion rocked the gym. The bombs strapped to the backboards of the basketball nets may have fallen and detonated. Whatever it was that caused the first explosion, the battle soon ensued. The terrorists thought that the government units were attacking and while some terrorists defended the building others began murdering hostages as fast as they could. Consider the impact of that reality: some terrorists fought off the advancing soldiers so that other terrorists could complete the grizzly work of murdering children.
Initial battle stretched into a ten hour close quarters combat hell that finally ended with 767 wounded and 338 dead, 172 of them children. Do you remember the Serial Snipers that assault the Washington DC metropolitan area in 2002? Life around the District of Columbia was drastically altered once the shooters attacked a child in a school parking lot. Up until then everyone seemed to be coping. They were nervous to be sure, but they functioned. Once a middle school boy was shot in his school parking lot the entire atmosphere changed. That was as the result of ONE child being shot. Can you imagine the impact on our country if 172 children were killed in a single event?
When the Beslan siege was over the Russian troops recovered an array of weapons that should scare every school administrator and certainly, at a minimum, cause concern in every American cop:
– about 30 AK47 assault rifles
– several AK74 assault rifles (similar but different from AK47)
– several 25mm grenade launchers
– several Dragunov sniper rifles
– three Kalashnikov PKM machine guns
– five RPG 18 rocket launchers
– five Makarov handguns
– anti-personnel mines
– hand grenades
– Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)
Now before you think or say, “That’s Russia. None of those weapons can be used here,” I would remind you that at least two of those weapons listed already HAVE been used in American school attacks. In April of 2003 in New Orleans, several men armed with AK47 rifles went into a high school and executed a student. In MANY of the school attacks dating all the way back to Bath, Michigan in 1927 explosives have been used as part of the attack. IEDs were used by Harris and Klebold in the Columbine School attack. In some suburban schools there are metal detectors at the entrances in part to prevent students from bringing handguns into the schools. It is not any stretch of the imagination to believe that a group of school assaulters could get a collection of weapons together similar to those of the Chechen terrorists at Beslan.
Now here is the $64 thousand dollar question: would our contemporary Active Shooter / Immediate Response tactics have worked against the Beslan Middle School siege? The answer is, “Absolutely not; nor were they designed to.” Our current AS/IR tactics were developed to answer the two-student shooter model of Columbine, not the 49 terrorist siege model of Beslan. That said, what should we be training our American cops for?
That violence in our schools is a reality is readily documented across the past 116 years of school history in America. That terrorists want to do harm to the United States and they don’t care if it’s innocent women and children was proven on September 11, 2001. That fanatical Muslim extremists are willing to commit horrendous acts of violence, cruelty and mayhem with children as their targets, simply to make a political statement, was proven in Beslan, Russia in 2204. If we aren’t training our cops to address the terrorist threat to schools, then I have to ask, WHAT THE HELL ARE WE WAITING FOR?
I’ve had to address one argument in the past, and I will address it briefly again here. I can hear someone out there reading this thinking, “But the FBI or the ATF or the military will handle a school siege, right?” WRONG. The FBI and ATF will certainly be playing key roles, but they won’t be the first on the scene and they won’t be the only law enforcement professionals in the fight. The military is prohibited from taking any law enforcement action by the Posse Comitatus act. That means, as I understand it, that unless a state of emergency is declared, martial law put in place and the Constitution suspended, our military troops cannot be used against terrorists in the United States. Why? Because we have decided that terrorism is a crime. If we simply relabeled it as an act of war committed within the geographic boundaries of the fifty states, then we COULD use the military to address the threat. We need to think hard about that.
Even if we did that though, it would be the local law enforcement authorities who would be first responders to such an event. Those local cops and firemen would be first to arrive; first to engage; first to fight and most certainly first to die unless we give them what they need to have a hope against such an enemy.
And let’s consider for a moment just how many men and women in uniform we’re going to need at the scene of a school siege. It’s an accepted axiom of military strategy that to take a held area back from an enemy requires outnumbering that enemy 3-to-1. So if the terrorists are in a given area, without fortification, it would take 3 cops to every 1 terrorist. Using that number fromBeslan of 49 terrorists, that means we’d need about 150 cops assaulting. But that’s 150 cops READY to assault on a moment’s notice. That’s not including the 150 cops we’d have asleep so that they’d be fresh for an assault if it comes on their shift. That’s not including inner perimeter, outer perimeter, evacuation, traffic control, press & media relations and more. Real fast that number of 150 becomes 500 or more. But what if the terrorists are entrenched and fortified as they were by the second day of the siege at Beslan? Then the number of assaulters triples up to 10-to-1. Wait a minute… 49 terrorists = 490 assault cops. 490 AWAKE; 490 asleep; inner perimeter, outer perimeter, press & media relations, evacuations, traffic control, etc. Where do we pull 1,500 to 2,000 cops from as fast as we can? All of them have to be properly trained and equipped by the way.
So, what do they need?
They need policy support first and foremost. They need agency leadership that publicly says, “If terrorists attack our schools you have the explicit authority to take whatever action is necessary to secure the safety of the children and neutralize the threat of the terrorists.” Let’s not mince words. We have policies in effect today that allows officers to neutralize school shooters. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has suggested that firing head shots on potential suicide bombers is an acceptable practice. Rather than worrying about what the liberal mainstream media would think, let’s see some of the our law enforcement leadership stand up and say, “We put the safety and lives of the children in our community first and foremost. Our officers are authorized to use whatever force is necessary, as expeditiously as possible, to secure the release and safety of our children.”
Next those cops need proper equipment. A handgun with 46 rounds of ammo (give or take a few depending on make, model and caliber) and concealable Level IIIA body armor is hardly sufficient. Our officers need to be trained and equipped with the basic equivalent of an infantry soldier in today’s Army: They need an assault rifle, at least seven magazines, external body armor, a ballistic helmet, protective (gas) mask, hydration system and medical trauma kits. Remember, that’s at a minimum.
Of course, we have two other issues that have to be addressed either before those things occur, or immediately thereafter.
One: We have to focus on hiring warriors to become our law enforcement professionals. Academies have to begin training them to STAY warriors rather than creating carefully choreographed social workers who are capable of violence as a last resort. An incentive program to encourage honorably discharged service veterans to enter public safety work should be a HUGE priority.
Two: We need a great public relations team to explain why things are changing with a heavy emphasis on the need to protect our children; the children who represent the future of our great nation.
Can we do these things? We’d better be able to. If not, the security of our American future is seriously in question. Next we’ll take a look at the events of Virginia Tech in April, 2007 and how they should, or shouldn’t, affect our response protocols.
Posted for ref for friends since the Borelli Consult site is Tango Uniform.