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September 5, 2004 by AK

Scribbles on the hostage tragedy

1. The terrorists’ key demand was impossible to meet: even in the best faith, Putin can’t make Chechnya independent overnight. They probably wanted to demonstrate they can do pretty much anything they want in Russia, and are set to break every taboo. Besides, they probably expected to provoke a conflict between the Ossetians, the most pro-Russian people in the N. Caucasus, and the Ingushs, who are in many ways close to the Chechens.

2. This time, it seems the terrorists are responsible for 99% of the casualties. At some point during the standoff, Russian emergency workers entered the school to take out some of the corpses. Suddenly, one of the many charges the terrorists planted inside the building went off. Children began to run out through the gap in a wall. The terrorists started shooting them in the back. Russians fired back to suppress the shots. More explosions followed; the roof collapsed. There was no option left but to storm the school.

3. The people who led the terrorists into “battle” are, or were, not desperate Chechens who lost their families in the war but professional terrorists and guerillas. (Russian sources report some were of Arab extraction.) Their bios read like “lite” versions of Shamil Basayev’s, the infamous Chechen commander who could be behind this and other attacks. Back in 1991, Basayev was part of a gang who hijacked a Soviet airplane forcing it to land in Turkey. Somehow, the Turks let him go; two years later, Shamil appeared in Abkhazia helping to repel a bloody Georgian offensive. His ideas of warfare, however, were even more unconventional that the Georgians’: he got videotaped playing football with heads of Georgian fighters. In 1994, he was involved in the Chechen civil war on President Dudayev’s side; since the Russian invasion in Dec. 1994, he has been one of the most active Chechen guerilla commanders. In 1995, his boys captured a hospital in the Russian town of Budennovsk (Budyonnovsk). After TV channels around the world transmitted images of bearded men pointing rifles at women with newborns in the maternity ward, Basayev was dubbed “the Gynecologist.” During the second Russian taking of Grozny, Basayev barely escaped the city, losing his foot in the process.

More than once, he has been reported dead or dying of gangrene; yet he seems as immortal as Bin Laden. Now if the Beslan terrorists are paler copies of Shamil, they had no intention to die. No, they would shoot a few kids and use others as a shield to get away. They don’t represent the Chechen people or any other people, but sure enough, they were acting on somebody’s orders and with somebody’s money.


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