This Day In History: September 3

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A three-day hostage crisis at a Russian school comes to a violent conclusion after a gun battle erupts between the hostage-takers and Russian security forces. In the end, over 300 people died, many of them children, while hundreds more were injured.

On the morning of September 1, a group of Chechan terrorists surrounded students, teachers and parents on the playground of School No. 1 in Beslan as they held a celebration in honor of the first day of the school year. Some people managed to escape while others were killed; however, the majority, an estimated 1,200 adults and children, were herded into the school gym, which the hostage-takers rigged with a number of explosive devices. Later that day, Russian authorities began negotiation talks with the terrorist, whose demands included the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. Negotiations broke down after two days and early on the afternoon of September 3, an explosion went off in the gym–accidentally, according to some survivors. Some hostages died immediately, and more were killed or injured when the gym collapsed. Further chaos ensued as Russian police and soldiers opened fire on the school. Some hostages were moved to the cafeteria and forced to stand at the windows as human shields, where they where caught in the crossfire.

In total, 331 people were killed as a result of the seige, 186 of them children, and over 700 more individuals were injured. Russian authorities claimed there was a total of 32 terrorists, 31 of whom died during the siege. Some surviving hostages claimed there had been additional terrorists who managed to escape. Residents of Beslan blamed Russian authorities for badly mishandling the crisis, saying rescue operations were poorly planned and troops used excessive force.

Shamil Basayev, a militant Islamist and leader of the Chechen separatist movement, claimed responsibility for the Beslan school siege. In 2006, Nurpashi Kulayev, the only known surviving hostage-taker, was sentenced to life in prison. That same year, Basayev died in an explosion, the cause of which remains unclear.

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