Terror At Beslan

Only a fool ignores the lessons of life displayed around him. When that fool is an elected or appointed leader of people, the ignorance equals dereliction of duty; an unacceptable failure to perform. We, in America, have had the opportunity to learn from the unfortunate experiences of Russia as they suffered through the attacks at Nord Ost Theater in Moscow and at Middle School Number 1 in Beslan. This week's review is about John Giduck's book, Terror At Beslan: A Russian Tragedy with Lessons for America's Schools. While I almost feel disrespectful in saying so, the most important part of that title for us is, "...with Lessons for American's Schools." The detail Mr. Giduck gives to his analysis is impressive. The links he creates between terrorist performance, doctrine and training should be a wake up call to every law enforcement professional, school resource officer, school security officer, school teacher, staff and other employees. Every cafeteria worker should read and understand the implications of the terrorist doctrine.

Before I go on, let me honor a few Russian soldiers, just as Mr. John Giduck did in his book. Why? Because even though they are of a different nationality and Russia used to be at odds with America (and still is in some ways), ALL parents should appreciate and respect the actions of men who sacrificed their lives to protect innocent women and children. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

Warrant Officer Oleg Vyacheslavovich Loskov
Warrant Officer Denis Yevgeniyevich Pudovkin
Lieutenant Andrei Alekseyevich Turkin
Major Roman Yurievich Katasonov
Major Mikhail Borisovich Kuznetsov
Major Vyacheslav Vladimirovich Molyarov
Major Aleksandr Valentinovich Perov
Major Andrei Vitaliyevich Velko
Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Gennadiyevich Ilin
Lieutenant Colonel Dmitri Aleksandrovich Razumovskii
An eleventh anonymous Special Forces soldier

Each of these men knowingly and willingly sacrificed his life to protect women and children--escaping hostages near the siege's end--from death or dismemberment. Each of them holds an honored spot in heaven's warrior halls.

In reviewing the book it is initially pleasing to see that Mr. Giduck didn't simply analyze the events at Beslan as they began the morning of September 1, 2004. Instead, he goes back several decades to first familiarize the reader with the history of that section of geography in Russia. The political history; military history; and geopolitical destabilization history are all examined. How the Chechen terrorist movement was financed, trained, equipped and grew in power is all reviewed so that the reader can fully appreciate what the hostages and rescuers in Beslan faced those horrible few days that the entire world watched.

Next, Mr. Giduck familiarizes the reader with Special Forces units in Russia's military and federal police services. The history and development of those units, along with selection process, training overview and final testing are all delineated.

Then, before getting into a day-by-day account of the siege at Beslan Middle School #1, Mr. Giduck gives the readers a review of all terrorist activity leading up to the Beslan siege. If most of you are like me, you're quite unaware of such events as:

  • May 1994: six terrorists armed with guns and grenades took over a bus filled with 29 children, teachers and parents.
  • July 1994: four terrorists took over a bus with 42 children, teachers and parents.
  • June 1995: 250 Chechen militants attacked a hospital in Buddenovsk, Russia. This was an exceptionally well-coordinated attack wherein the militants first attacked the local police station and then moved from there to the hospital, shooting victims along the way. They knew these victims would be transported to the hospital, thereby increasing their hostage count involuntarily. Hostage total was about 2,500.
  • January 1996: 300+ Chechen & Ingush militants attacked the Kizlyar Air Force Base in Dagestan, Russia before moving to and taking over the Dagestan hospital.
  • January 1996: the same terrorists that took Dagestan hospital, while traveling under "safe passage" back to Chechnya, instead detoured to Pervomaiskoye to take more hostages at a military garrison.
  • August & September 1999: Three apartment buildings blown up in Moscow by Islamic extremist Chechens, killing more than 300 people.
  • July 2001: One terrorist takes over a bus with 36 passengers. He was a veteran terrorist, having participated in the May 1994 event listed above.
  • September 11, 2001 (Not included in the book timeline, but important to recognize): Al-Qaeda terrorists hijack four planes in the United States and use them to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The fourth, Flight 93, crashes in Pennsylvania when the passengers band together against the terrorists. The actual target for this fourth plane has never been known or officially revealed.
  • October 13, 2002: 42 terrorists take more than 800 hostages at the Nord-Ost theater in Moscow. Using an unknown gas, Russian Special Forces assault the theater and rescue more than 600 victims. 129 victims die. All 42 terrorists are killed.
  • December 2003: a single female HOMICIDE bomber detonates herself in Red Square, killing five people.
  • February 2004: a bomb is detonated inside a Moscow subway care during rush hour, killing 39.
  • June 2004: in a two day operation, more than 950 Islamic extremist Chechens and Ingush simultaneously attack four town in Ingushetia, killing 98 people.

That's a ten-year timeline leading up to September 1, 2004. The largest hostage siege situation delineated there is mostly unknown to the United States population: the taking of the Buddensovsk Hospital.

Mr. Giduck then goes through the Beslan School siege one day at a time, examining both the terrorist actions and the surrounding governmental response. He doesn't pull punches when criticizing government officials as they tried to hide from responsibility or failed to make timely decisions while making excuses about unknown data.

After that, thanks to his unique access to Russian Special Forces troops who had been on the scene at Beslan, Mr. Giduck is able to review:

  • The terrorists' plan at Beslan
  • The government's response at Beslan
  • The unexpected Aftermath at Beslan

In Part Four of this book, Mr. Giduck very carefully examines all the implications of the Beslan attack on American schools. This is, by far, the most important section of the book, but you can't fully appreciate it without reading the first three parts. In Part Four, titled "Preparing America for Battle", Mr. Giduck discusses:

  • Preparing America's Schools
  • Preparing Law Enforcement
  • Combining Forces
  • Citizen Soldiers (and he doesn't mean the National Guard)
  • Preparing a Tactical Response
  • How Great the Threat?

With regard to "Preparing America's Schools", I quote from the book, Page 285:

"So, how is it we have yet to pull our heads from the sand, take a long gander about, and start doing something about it? And if we are to start, how far are we willing to go? Are we--as so many have predicted--going to sit imperiously upon our moralistic laurels and refuse to do those things that violate certain opinions we hold dearly, but that have been built upon the luxury of a completely safe and secure existence? Are those who oppose gun ownership ready to have parents and teachers armed, or for every school to have patrolling teams of Special Forces to defend them, every single day of the school year?"

Think about that.

With regard to "Preparing Law Enforcement", I quote from the book, Page 289:

"Though they prepare mightily everyday, a situation like Beslan would force our nation's law enforcement to confront circumstances and tactical hurdles unlike anything they have ever seen before. It will be a war. As a war, they must prepare to deal with factors that are not part of everyday police work, no matter how terrible or difficult. Law enforcement must mentally prepare for threatened, brutalized, and possibly executed children. We can never suffer another Columbine. Police must be prepared to risk their lives to save the children if and when the time comes, as many of the brave commandos of Alpha and Vympel did on September 3, 2004."

Think about that.

With regard to "Combining Forces", I quote from the book, Page 318:

"Is local law enforcement prepared to work with the FBI, FEMA, its own state WMD/CST, and even the National Guard if necessary in responding to such a situation? Have they worked out a critical Incident Command System (ICS)? Have they trained together before? Have they done any of this with sister jurisdictions that will likely respond? What is prepared as between the local police and fire departments? Are private ambulance services a part of the critical incident response plan? Is your police department ready to subordinate itself to another law enforcement agency if that other is better trained or more experienced in SWAT, hostage negotiations and rescue?"

Think about that.

With regard to "Citizen Soldiers", I quote from the book, Page 329:

"Where do you think all those great FBI agents, CIA intelligence officers, Green Berets, Secret Service Agents and international experts came from? They are all part of--and at one time were nothing more than--the average citizenry. There is no greater resource in the world than Americans. I often lament the loss of certain characteristics of American society found in eras like World War II; before our society indulged its puritanical need to quantify and credential everything to the point where you can't do a workout without either an expert trainer or a master's degree in exercise physiology. In the 1940s we drew our courageous Smoke Jumpers--men who would parachute into a raging forest fire with nothing more than a shovel and neckerchief--from college kids looking for summer work. Our military, in a time of great need, did not hesitate to give direct commissions to common citizens who could contribute to the war effort."

Think about that. And additionally think about this: How many of the citizens in YOUR community are prior military service veterans? Retired cops? Firemen? Paramedics, etc? To deny using them irrationally limits your ability to respond most efficiently.

Because of the specific applicability of the section on "Preparing A Tactical Response" to uniformed operators, I'll skip it here and move on to "How Great The Threat." I quote from the book, Page 374 & 375:

"The problem up until now is that to most Americans--despite all of the terror attacks on our fellow citizens, on our property, and despite 9-11--the very notion of Islamic extremists coming here to kill us remains a distant and unrealistic thought. The average person does not get up every day and seriously contemplate that the bridge he is about to drive across on his way to work, or the office building he is about to walk into, the mall or restaurant she will have lunch in, the school or day care her children will merrily clamor into that morning, may well be the target of a terrorist attack."

"Few Americans have any substantive knowledge of the history of Islam, and the growth of modern radical extremist Muslim groups in the modern world. For if they did, they would see a direct and incontrovertible path of violence headed in our direction, not unlike the visible trail of a missile as it soars unerringly toward a great jet airplane flying so far above the fray that it does not think to look for threats racing toward its soft underbelly."

Think about that.

As should be obvious from all of the above commentary, I believe that Mr. John Giduck's book Terror At Beslan is a must-read publication for not just those who serve in a uniform, but every American citizen who is willing to acknowledge the threat of and take up arms against terrorists. Failing to educate ourselves; failing to work together, train and plan...FAILING to prepare as necessary is the equivalent of offering our children up on a platter to the wholesale slaughter by Islamic extremists. Who among you will willingly sacrifice your children? View it in that context and do what's right and necessary.