Beslan, Russia – On the morning of September 1, 2004, teachers, students and their families gathered in front of School Number One in the town of Beslan to celebrate the start of the new school year.
First they heard gunfire, and then saw a group of armed men forcing people into the school building.
The Beslan hostage crisis turned out to be the deadliest terror attack in modern Russia’s history. The rebels took approximately 1,200 children and adults hostage at the school, without providing food or water for three days. On the first day, they executed a man in front of his two children and the other hostages. Later they took a group of men at gunpoint in a classroom on the first floor, shot them and threw their bodies out of the window.
The attackers – members of a Chechen separatist group called Riyad as-Saliheen Martyrs’ Brigade – demanded the recognition of Chechnya’s independence from Russia and the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from the region. On September 2, the hostage-takers agreed to negotiate with Ruslan Aushev, the former president of the adjacent republic of Ingushetia, allowing him to enter the school and release 26 hostages.
On the third day of the standoff, local authorities received permission from the attackers to remove bodies lying in front of the school. But when medical workers approached the building, two of them were shot dead, followed by two explosions 20 seconds later.
The explosions caused the roof of the gym to collapse, killing many. After the first blast, hostages began to run out of the school, and Russian special forces stormed the building trying to rescue the rest.
The siege ended with 334 hostages dead, more than half of whom were children. The only attacker caught alive was sentenced to life in prison.