Document Type

Book Chapter


On September 1, 2004, a group of terrorists took more than 1,200 hostages on the first day of school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan. The deadliest hostage crisis, and at the same time the third deadliest terrorist attack in history, was about to unfold. After a 52-hour standoff, the detonation of explosive devices inside the school triggered a chaotic rescue operation, in which 31 terrorists and 331 victims were killed, 176 of them children. The Beslan school hostage crisis was an unprecedented terrorist attack, both in its scale and targeting. It is clear that understanding the lessons of Beslan is one of the key prerequisites of designing counterterrorism strategies for the twenty-first century. The first part of the chapter will provide a short chronology of the crisis. The second part will examine the alleged "intelligence failure" associated with Beslan, and will provide some details on what information was available prior to the attack. The third part will focus on the operational management of the incident, including an assessment of the negotiation efforts as well as some of the success and failures of the rescue operation. The fourth part will look at media management during the crisis, followed by an exploration of some mind-boggling questions that are yet to be answered about Beslan. And finally, the conclusion will summarize the implications and lessons learned for crafting effective counterterrorism policies in the twenty-first century.