A gritty account of the terrorist siege on a Russian elementary school in 2004.
First-time author Phillips traveled to the former Soviet Union to study the events of that fateful September day, when a small group of Chechen nationalists and Islamic extremists attacked School No. 1 in the small Russian town of Beslan. During a traditional service entitled the “Ceremony of the First Bell”—in which first year students, proud parents and grandparents and returning pupils gathered in the school courtyard to perform songs and dances—gunfire erupted as balloons were released into the air. A group of terrorists led by Ruslan Khuchbarov stormed the courtyard, gunning down anyone attempting to flee before herding the men, women and children into a small gymnasium. Interviews from survivors recount in graphic detail the events that followed during the next three days as more than 1,200 people were held captive. As a bumbling police force assembled outside the school with rounds of blanks instead of real bullets, female suicide bombers detonated their bombs in an attempt to kill the men and eliminate any chance of a resistance. Meanwhile, the terrorists threatened to shoot any child who attempted to drink water from the bathroom taps, and all the while the negotiating had yet to even begin. Using a hostage to write their demands on a piece of paper and deliver it to the police, the terrorists called for several high-ranking individuals to be brought in, with the hopes of pressuring the unwavering Russian government to pull its troops from Chechnya and declare it a free and independent nation. Phillips provides a thorough history of the sectarian divide that has gripped the region over the past century and details the events that led to the siege. The author navigates between past and present, offering the reader a reflective look at the event in question. But the constant shift between the crisis and its historical buildup dissipates the sense of urgency and tension as the situation becomes increasingly dire.
A disturbing account of fundamentalism’s lethal power.