As details emerge of the three-day siege of a Russian school by Islamic terrorists – which reportedly resulted in more than 350 dead and 700 injured – it is becoming apparent that the operation closely followed the terror roadmap laid out in issue 10 of Al Battar, al-Qaida's online training manual.
The tragic events unfolded in the town of Beslan, in the North Ossetia region, near Chechnya, as Islamic Chechen terrorists with suicide-bomb belts seized the school Wednesday, taking as many as 1,500 hostages, later releasing some. The siege ended in explosions, gunfire and the screams of fleeing children as commandos stormed the building.
The terrorism roadmap, written by Abdel Aziz Al Moqrin, leader of al-Qaida's Saudi Arabian cell who was killed in June, provides a detailed and simplified "Kidnapping for Dummies" guide.
Reports in various media outlets illustrate just how closely it appears the guidelines were followed.
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A section of the document titled, "How to deal with hostages," advises the following:
Separate the young people from the old, the women and the children. The young people have more strength, hence their ability to resist is high. The security forces must be killed instantly. This prevents others from showing resistance.
Reports from the scene indicate that younger and stronger males were killed very early into the operation, following these instructions closely. The following news media reports further document this:
"Freed hostage Zalina Dzandzarova said that two suicide bombers had killed themselves on Wednesday -- they exploded themselves in the corridor, where male hostages were being kept.” – Kommersant Daily
"Women with small infants greatly upset the fighters. In the morning they led them all out of the gym and put them apart on the second floor" -- Unidentified freed woman hostage to Izvestia daily
"People are lying on the floor next to one another. The terrorists separated us. Those, who did not feel very good, were placed in locker rooms. They made male hostages break the windows, because it was too stuffy in the gym." -- Freed hostage Zalina Dzandarova to Kommersant Daily
The kidnapping manual advises the kidnappers to, “Speak in a language or dialect other than your own, in order to prevent revealing your identity.” Based on eyewitness reports from freed captives, it appears that they followed this directive as well:
"In general, they do not talk much and they talk a lot in whispers ... . In the main they explained themselves with gestures. But it did happen that they spoke. By their speech, it is possible to say that among them were Chechens and also Ingush. We did not see their faces. They did not take off their masks." -- Unidentified freed woman hostage to Izvestia daily
The terrorists are advised by Moqrin to, "Wire the perimeter of the hostage location to deny access to the enemy." Reports from the scene indicate that one of the first actions of the terrorists was to mine the gym.
They told us to sit down and began to mine the gym. Two big explosive devices have been placed in the basketball hoop." -- Unidentified freed woman hostage to Izvestia daily
"The terrorists planted a lot of mines and booby-traps filled with metal bolts in the gym." -- Defense Ministry spokesman to Interfax.
The guidelines that the terrorists followed appear to be comprehensive and are not limited to just operational instructions but include extensive instructions on planning. It recommends five possible reasons for conducting a kidnapping or hostage operation.
- 1. Force the government or the enemy to succumb to some demands.
2. Put the government in a difficult situation that will create a political embarrassment between the government and the countries of the detainees.
3. Obtaining important information from the detainees.
4. Obtaining ransoms.
5. Bringing a specific case to light. For example, this occurred at the beginning of the cases in Chechnya and Algeria, with the hijacking of the French plane and the kidnapping operations performed by the brothers in Chechnya and the Philippines.
It appears that this operation was done for reasons 1 and 2 and possibly item 5. According to North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov, the terrorists’ demands were simple, "to liberate Chechnya and declare its independence from Russia."
The kidnapping guide includes a description of the psychological makeup of would-be kidnappers, which should have been helpful to negotiators and law enforcement officials on the scene:
- B. Requirements needed in forming a kidnapping group:
- Capability to endure psychological pressure and difficult circumstances. In case of public kidnapping, the team will be under a lot of pressure. Intelligence and quick reflexes are needed in order to deal with an emergency.
- Capability to take control over the adversary. The brother is required to possess fighting skills that will enable him to paralyze the adversary and seize control of him.
- Good physical fitness and fighting skills.
- Awareness of the security requirements, prior to, during, and after the operation.
- Ability to use all types of light weapons for kidnapping.
The roadmap describes two types of operations, secret kidnappings and public kidnappings. It outlines the stages of the operation. The first two stages are determining the target and gathering information on the location. It goes on to detail additional steps to be taken if the subjects are on a bus, a plane or in a convoy.
The plans outline how the team should be divided into various groups. The groups included:
- Protection group whose role is to protect the abductors.
- The guarding and control group whose role is to seize control of the hostages, and get rid of them in case the operation fails.
- The negotiating group whose role is extremely important and sensitive. In general, the leader of this group is the negotiator. He conveys the Mujahideen’s demands, and must be intelligent, decisive, and determined.
The plans advise the kidnappers on how to handle negotiations. It encourages them to minimize the length of time that the negotiations are allowed to continue and advises them of the necessity of remaining calm at all times.
It particularly warns them to be alert for signs of stalling on the part of the negotiators.
"In case of any stalling, starting to execute hostages is necessary. The authorities must realize the seriousness of the kidnappers and their dedicated resolve and credibility in future operations.”
It summarizes as follows:
- Security measures for public kidnapping:
- Detention must not be prolonged.
- In case of stalling, hostages must be gradually executed, so that the enemy knows we are serious.
- When releasing hostages such as women and children, be careful, as they may transfer information that might be helpful to the enemy.
- You must verify that the food transported to the hostages and kidnappers is safe. This is done by making the delivery person and the hostages taste the food before you. It is preferable that an elderly person or a child brings in the food, as food delivery could be done by a covert special forces’ person.
- Beware of the negotiator.
- Stalling by the enemy indicates their intention to storm the location.
- Beware of sudden attacks as they may be trying to create a diversion which could allow them to seize control of the situation.
- Combating teams will use two attacks: a secondary one just to attract attention, and a main attack elsewhere.
- In case your demands have been met, releasing the hostages should be made only in a place that is safe to the hostage takers.
- Watch out for the ventilation or other openings as they could be used to plant surveillance devices through which the number of kidnappers could be counted and gases could be used.
- Do not be emotionally affected by the distress of your captives.
- Abide by Muslim laws as your actions may become a Da’wa [call to join Islam].
- Avoid looking at women.
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