The Terror at Beslan

My name is John Giduck, author of The Terror at Beslan, and Senior Consultant & Instructor at the Archangel Group ( The summary of the 2004 Beslan school massacre in Russia in your book on School Shootings (page 275) is no doubt based on what came out at the time, but I traveled there personally days after the tragedy, did hundreds of hours of research and interviews, and I believe I can add clarity. For anyone wishing to know the entire story in detail, please refer to my book. For now, here are my updates on your section addressing Beslan:

1.  There were 49 terrorists.  The news media (and even the Russian
government) reported 32, as there were 31 bodies at the end, and one
captured alive (Norpasha Kulayev).  Fully 17 escaped in the chaos of a ten
hour long gunbattle, which saw dozens and dozens of armed citizens running
up to the school, entering the school behind the military teams, carrying
hostages and wounded out. One 13 year old girl was being carried up the
street on a stretcher, and when it was put down she saw the man who was
behind her head, and he was one of the terrorists.  He disappeared into the
crowd before she could alert anyone.  The Russians have assured me that they
identified, hunted down and killed all 17 (which they tend to be good at),
but I don’t know that I believe they’ve gotten them all.

2.  Only two women with belt bombs.  All others were male, who did not wear
belt or vest bombs.

3.  The best list of hostages I’ve been able to find makes it 1,215.


4.  The supposed floor boards were in an ante-room to the library.  It was
only about 10′ by 10′.  All the rest of the ground floor was concrete or
flagstone, with the exception of the gym, but even that was hardwood laid
over concrete.  Nothing was hidden in advance of the attack.  First, the
space underneath was very shallow and they could not have fit much under
there.  Second, all of the men who did the remodeling were townspeople and
school employees (in Beslan everybody knows everybody).  One teacher had a
brother who lived on the east side of Chechnya in Dagestan.  When reporters
heard “someone came from the east” to work on the school, that east became
Chechnya, then it became Chechens, then it became a Chechen construction
crew was hired to renovate the school.  Absolute crap.  Ethnic hatreds in
that region are real.  The Christians of Beslan and North Ossetia hate,
despise, fear and are terrified of Chechens.  They would no more hire a
Chechen crew and give them access to a school, than the Israelis would hire
a Hezbollah construction crew and let them into one of their schools.  The
terrorists would never cache weapons and leave them unsecured, not knowing
if they were going to be ambushed when they arrived.  And, for weapons to
have been hidden under the floorboards, those boards would have to have been
replaced during the remodeling.  Yuri and I pushed all the books and papers
aside (as we were already hearing this ridiculous theory from reporters) and
took photos to show that it was the same 100-plus year old wood that had
always been there.  Finally, the male hostages who were made to do it, all
reported that the terrorists gave them picks and made them pull a few boards
up so they could look under and make sure the special forces weren’t
underneath, as they had been at the theater two years before.

5.  A dozen teachers and parents weren’t killed trying to protect anyone.
At first 16 men and teenage boys (the largest) were killed upstairs.  Then
another five.  They were selected due to their size and executed.


6.  Once the military began arriving (first the 58th Army then a special
forces unit called Rus) the police had no role any longer.  Not that they
had done anything up to that point.  Russian police are untrained,
unequipped and not tactically capable of dealing with anything like this.
Russia is Russia, whether it’s the tsarist era, communist era, yeltsin style
democracy or Putin’s new version of a totalitarian democracy (like that
phrase?), and it never allows for the decentralization of power.  All the
power and ability is vest in the center, which is why they have to let these
things turn into sieges so the military has time to deploy.  The police were
in the crowd and sometimes as much a part of the problem as the rest of the

7.  They began removing bodies from the west side of the school (the gym is
on the east) at 1:05 pm, not in the morning.  The bodies were outside, not


8.  After the first bomb went off a second one detonated, anywhere from 7 to
22 seconds later.  Then a third a short time after that.  The Russians
believe the second and third were intentionally set off by the terrorists
and were not sympathetic detonations.

9.  The numbers of dead hostages has changed numerous times over four years.
First it was 339, then 338, then 331 then 332.  Finally after all three
commissions and one trial concluding their factgathering, they said 334.  As
of a few months ago they said, “no we didn’t mean 334 hostages, we meant 314
plus 20 soldiers (actually there were 21 soldiers killed).”  So the final
number of dead hostages seems to be 314.  The one number that never changed
was that of the dead 186 were kids.  The number of wounded has never been
certain.  I’ve been told as many as 761 were wounded or injured requiring
medical attention.

Don’t know if this was of help or not.  Good luck with your project.